Niko Peltokangas: OLL’s membership model is all about developing operations

Developing a new membership model felt like a monster that you can’t quite make out in a dark room, OLL's Secretary General Niko Peltokangas writes. How does it feel now? Peltokangas describes his feelings and observations from the past year.

At the General Assembly, held in early November, OLL's members will decide in which direction we should start developing our membership model. The Federation’s board has spent the year working on a report which analyses three different kinds of membership models, and variations on these: “the universities’ sports federation” has universities as its members, whereas any sports organisation could join “the university sports umbrella organisation”, and the “university sports service organisation” would produce services for the current members according to demand.

I have participated in the development of the membership model, first from the sidelines as Communications specialist, and later as Secretary General in charge of the strategic development of the Federation in collaboration with the President. Our President Essi has been leading the work to compile the report in an admirably systematic and purposeful way. With the support of our board, our specialists and our partners, the report has become quite a comprehensive document outlining the Federation’s future.

Below, I have gathered a few thoughts that have come up during this process. I won’t take a stand for or against any of the membership models in the report, as they all have good elements which the right solution for OLL could be built on.

From darkness to light

A year ago, the development work was carried out in an atmosphere of crisis. Member organisations had been leaving the Federation several years in a row, and last autumn two more members announced that they were leaving. One of them even announced their departure during the General Assembly, the Federation’s “Holy of holies”. At the start of this year, when we were still outlining the upcoming development work and decided to put together a report on the topic, a fairly large student union also decided to leave us.

Developing a new membership model felt like a monster that you can’t quite make out in a dark room.

As the year went on, things started to look brighter, which is often the case as knowledge and understanding grows. The development of the membership model has never just been about putting a stop to the loss of members, but during this past year those of us who are in the membership working group or working at the OLL office have started to get a clearer picture of what it’s all about.

Who OLL's members are has a fundamental impact on what OLL does. If the Foundation’s operations and the needs of the members don’t align, then we need to change the operations, the members, or both.

The membership model impacts the work

In the current strategy, the starting point for the membership model reform is representativeness – the idea is that the work of the Federation should cover as many university students as possible. We have quickly become aware of the fact that in addition to the membership, we should also examine how we need to change our operations if the membership base changes or becomes more varied.

Whoever our members are, they will at least impact these areas of our operations:

1. The Federation’s leadership and how student-led it is. The Federation is currently led by students, who work at the office full time. If organisations that are not led by students became members, they may have their own ideas of the student-led approach and having full-time elected officials. The report is based on the idea that it is important to maintain the student leadership of the Federation.

2. Services. Different kinds of members want different kinds of services, whether this means supporting advocacy work, arranging training sessions, or producing materials and members’ benefits. The more varied the expectations of our members, the harder it is to allocate limited resources so that everyone’s needs are met.

3. Advocacy. Different kinds of members will most likely also want different kinds of advocacy work. Recently we have been focusing on issues such as gaining a stronger position for university sports in legislation and university funding. If universities or municipalities were members of the Federation, they might not agree with this goal. So should we only try to recruit organisations who are committed to our political policy paper as members, or should we assemble a membership who will create a new policy paper for the development of university and student sports?

4. The relationship between advocacy work and services. A separate question is how the membership base will impact the relationship between advocacy work and services. Even now, some members mainly want the Federation to provide tangible services and benefits that improve students’ daily lives, while others prefer the Federation to focus on national lobbying and advocacy work. As part of the development of the membership model it will also be possible to find solutions that impact this relationship. Even limited resources won’t stop us from expanding the membership base if we decide that members’ services are of a secondary importance compared to our advocacy work.

While the development work began in an atmosphere of crisis, at least for me personally, I now feel confident about what comes next. Turning on the lights made the monster shrink and also helped us see the whole room better. Creating a new strategy with the new board and our member organisations and incorporating the membership model into the rules are no longer overshadowing the future; instead, they feel like the most interesting tasks we have lined up for next year.

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