BuckeyeThon creates a culture of philanthropy in others, long-term culture for itself

“We’re essentially running a $1 million nonprofit, but we have to basically change our leadership every single year, which makes it really hard to focus on strategic plans and try to implement them and keep people engaged on why they need to happen,” Chhabria says. “You have a fresh, new set of ideas come in every year, which is a good thing, too, but I think it’s really tough to stay focused on your priorities.”

Alonso says BuckeyeThon has 120 members, but the role of the leadership team of 20 has evolved. For example, some of the programs have been scheduled out years in advance.

“In the past it may have been: I don’t want to plan your events and I’m taking away from that student’s activities,” he says. “But now, they understand when I come in as an officer in this role, my work may already be done for me. I’m implementing that piece and planning for next year.”

Guidance for decision-making

You can think of BuckeyeThon’s leadership team as a volunteer board who gets a crash course in student leadership, thanks to strong transition programs, Alonso says.

As soon as the new team is in place, the students go away for a weekend retreat where they not only learn more about how to do their roles, but also discuss the overall strategic goals. They examine how BuckeyeThon is doing at implementing those plans and what can be done better.

Chhabria, a senior who got involved with BuckeyeThon as a high school student, has taken those lessons in planning to heart.

“This sounds really cheesy and corny, but the most important way to think about the future of your organization is to start with your cause,” he says.

BuckeyeThon has five strategic pillars, so any decision that is made has to be filtered through those.

“There’s always a number of things you can do to grow your organization and help it become more prominent,” Chhabria says. “But if you don’t selectively choose what you want your organization to spend time on, it gets to a point where you’re just throwing a bunch of possible solutions at a problem and you’re not being the most effective with your time.

“Using your values to guide your decisions is one of the most impactful ways to figure out how you want to plan for the future,” he says.