It may come as no surprise that I think students’ unions should work with people that ‘get’ them (*ahem* like me) but I thought I’d explain more about why I think it’s so useful and shout out some other people you should work with.

'Einstein' in front of a whiteboard

^ Not necessarily what us geniuses actually look like though the wild hair isn’t that far off for me…


Bringing someone in to provide training, consultancy or delivering a project is a handy way to add skills, knowledge and/or a spare pair of hands whether that’s for a one-off piece of work or on a longer term basis.

As a former sabbatical officer and staff member I’m obviously biased but I think there is particular value in working with former officers (especially if it’s a project which involves current officers) as they have a unique understanding of the pressures and challenges of that role. Bonus points if they’ve also been a staff member as they can see an issue from both viewpoints (which sometimes conflict!)

Getting the most bang for your buck

For many students’ unions and other small organisations this is something that involves persuading budget-holders, trustees and managers to invest in specialist support so you need to make sure you’re getting as much value as possible.

This is where I see one of the main benefits of working with people who have experience of working with students’ unions. They can hit the ground running and get straight on with things.

If you’ve ever had to brief someone who isn’t familiar with students’ unions and their quirks you’ll know it can take some time and there is an element of risk involved.

Ok so students elect other students to lead the organisation. Yep, every year. Nope, they don’t have to have any experience. Yep they are then trustees of charities with (often) multi-million pound turnovers. No you can’t put that sexy lady on that poster as it’s objectifying women. This is what objectifying women means and why it’s bad….

Ain’t nobody got time for that right? Working with people who know what a Course Rep is, some of the barriers they might face to getting involved and how you can help them make the most of the role means you don’t have to spend time (which we all know is money) going over that.

Human case study collections

People who have worked with students’ unions are able to bring examples from across the sector to show you a variety of ways you could approach a topic. Want to increase the representation of international students? Great, here’s how Union X did it and what Union Y learned from a similar trial last year.

Combined with that specialist knowledge of how unions work, many people who work with unions also work with other organisations. This allows them to bring in and translate best practice from outside the world of students’ unions. This cross-pollination is healthy for the sector, preventing it becoming too inward-looking whilst ensuring the benefits of doing things differently are maximised for unions.

Bonus people

They can tap into the wider hive mind of contacts in students’ unions and other consultants who work with unions. I’m often picking the brains of other union consultants or chatting to people who are part of union comms teams to get their thoughts on something or recommendations for tools or other consultants.

We can collaborate on training sessions and projects, giving unions access to even more knowledge and expertise. I’ve run training sessions for officers with journalist and former sabbatical officer Adam Lindsay which combine my tips on things like finding your key message and thinking about your audience with his media skills expertise.

Other options are available but…

There are definitely times when working with someone who doesn’t know how unions operate is a suitable option, e.g. if it’s something super generic like how to use a particular mailing list platform or basic design principles.

There are loads of great trainers, consultants and agencies who don’t have any experience of working with students’ unions (so don’t @ me!) but what they might miss is the ‘how to apply this to a students’ union’ angle like what sort of email subject lines or artwork have been effective with students or how to adapt things to a democratically run organisation (often with a tight budget!).

I’m also a big advocate for looking for ideas outside of students’ unions as I think the sector can be a bit myopic by only looking at what other unions do. If you’re looking for a totally fresh perspective maybe you should bring in someone who isn’t familiar with unions though I think bringing in someone with some experience allows you to get a more rounded answer faster.

Photo by Raghav Modi on Unsplash

If you’re looking for training, support or consultancy from people who ‘get’ students’ unions marketing or comms do get in touch –

I’ve also worked with these students’ union specialists and can confirm they know their stuff!

Plus I have a list of around 20 other students’ union experts so get in touch if you’re looking for support on these or other topics.