Starting or Renewing a Student Group

Before starting a new group, please review the list of student groups at the GSD, as there may already be an established group with the same or similar focus.

To start or renew a group, you will need to fill out an application. Student Groups apply to register or renew through our student activities platform, Engage. Groups can prepare for their applications by thinking through several questions:

  • Who are your group’s leadership? Each group will need to designate a primary and secondary contact, as well as assigning the roles of treasurer and events liaison (which can be held by the primary or secondary contacts if desired).
  • What is your group’s mission statement? Existing groups can choose to keep their current statement, but are encouraged to update to reflect any change in focus, goals, and plans for the new year.
  • What activities is your group planning? Student group activities can range from small regular meetings up to major conferences produced in partnership with GSD administration. Most group events are small gatherings, lectures, and discussions, with a few symposia, conferences, and other ambitious plans often becoming collaborations between multiple groups. Please note that all events, even online ones, will still need to go through the events planning and approval process.
  • Does your group have any funding needs to maintain its operations or carry out its proposed activities? Groups will have the option to make funding requests. Keep in mind that the amounts requested generally far exceed the funds available. See below for guidelines on what kinds of expenses can be funded.

Please address questions about the student group application process to [email protected].

Student Group Funding

Allocation from Student Forum

Student Group budget requests are reviewed a committee chaired by the Student Forum Student Groups Chair and including other elected members of Student Forum. Funding decisions must be approved by Student Affairs staff. Following the allocations process, groups wishing a more thorough explanation of their specific allocation decision may inquire to the Student Groups Chair.

When considering your group’s funding requests, and when spending group funds during the year, please keep in mind that student groups funding is meant to benefit all students. While each group may plan activities that focus on their members as the primary intended participants, such activities should be open to all group members, and membership in the group should be open to all GSD students. Funds allocated to groups by Student Forum cannot be used for activities that are restricted to a select few, such as for travel, or free merchandise for group leadership. Also note that funds allocated in one academic year must be spent in that academic year, and cannot be carried over to a new academic year.

Other Funding Sources

As part of remaining open to all GSD students, and in recognition that funds allocated to groups derive from the activities fee paid by students, GSD student groups cannot charge dues to their members. Groups may charge for admission to events in order to offset the cost of producing the event, but should endeavor to have the vast majority of group activities available without any additional cost to members.

Groups may choose to raise funds by selling merchandise. Seed funds to allow for initial purchase of merchandise to be sold can be borrowed through Student Forum. Note that part of this process includes approval of merchandise designs, particularly any use of the GSD or Harvard names or logos or modified versions thereof.

Groups may seek funds from offices and centers at Harvard. These offices and centers must NOT be part of the GSD, with the sole exceptions of the Joint Center for Housing Studies and, during its application cycle each semester, the Racial Equity and Anti-Racism Fund. Each unit at Harvard may have its own internal process for requesting funds, including potential deadlines for application. Groups should notify [email protected] when beginning to seek external funds. Student Affairs staff generally need to be involved in order for funds to be successfully transferred, and to ensure compliance with financial policies.

Groups may not seek sponsorship from offices, departments, and centers based at the GSD. Instead, the GSD has one unified approval process for seeking supplemental funds for special events, where costs necessarily exceed the amount able to be allocated to any one group by Student Forum. An application form will be available on Engage. The types of activities eligible for supplemental GSD funding may include hosting conferences, symposia, keynote lectures, or other large special events. Types of costs may include honoraria, technology, custodial services, and security services related to an event, etc.

Groups considering seeking funding from any entity outside of Harvard should speak with Student Affairs staff and receive approval before initiating any conversations with that external party. Please note that any gifts made to a GSD student group are not tax deductible donations. It is not possible to direct a tax-deductible gift to the GSD or Harvard towards any one specific GSD student group or activity.

Engage Platform

Engage is a browser-based student activities platform, used to manage student groups and government and for all students to more easily connect with the groups and activities they’re interested in.

In Engage, each student group has its own dedicated online presence. For many groups, this may mean no longer needing to maintain externally hosted sites, though external sites are still an option. In Engage, groups can update mission statements, leadership, and member rosters, and link to social media and other external presences. Groups can propose and be approved for events, and promote those events through an interactive events listing. Students can then add those events to their individual calendars. Groups can easily maintain files from year to year, communicate with membership, and even run leadership elections through Engage. Engage is also where group leaders go to register groups, apply for funding, and request payments/reimbursements.


Application and Recognition

Student groups must apply each academic year to begin or renew their status as recognized groups. Only recognized groups are eligible for GSD student groups funding and other resources. Student Forum and the Office of Student Affairs review all applications, and must approve all requests for recognition. The main registration period is in September, but groups can form at any point in the year. Groups forming later should note that funding may no longer be available after the official allocations process.

Groups newly forming should ensure their proposed group name accurately reflects the group’s status as a student-led, GSD-based group. Use of the word “student” or “club” in the group name is often helpful for that purpose. Please wait until your group name is approved before investing in resources such as website URLs, and similarly wait for funding approval before committing to any such resources.

GSD student groups must be led by GSD students. If a group operates across multiple Harvard schools, it should form a chapter at each of those schools with leadership for each chapter from that school. GSAS PhD students whose home departments are at the GSD are the only non-GSD students eligible to hold leadership roles in a GSD student group.

Event Proposal and Approval

All GSD events go through a proposal and review process, and not all events will necessarily be approved. The GSD’s Events Committee considers many factors, including timing relative to other GSD happenings, resource availability, and event content. Even wholly virtual events must go through this process. It’s very important to note that event requests are not approved until they are officially confirmed by the Events Committee.

Group leaders should review the Event Planning for Students page, and are encouraged to reach out to Student Affairs staff with any questions. Especially for any larger or ambitious events, those with high-profile proposed participants, or those that may require significant financial support, groups are urged to connect with Student Affairs as early as possible in the planning process.

Check in with staff if you are not certain where your proposed event will stand in terms of Harvard and GSD policies, including the evolving policies around pandemic mitigation. Carefully review the Event Planning for Students page as you consider options for group activities.

All active GSD and Harvard policies apply to student group activities, including those taking place off campus. Any activity that violates these policies will not be eligible for reimbursement from student groups funding and could lead to disciplinary action for both group leaders and the group itself.

Groups should also make note of the GSD’s Student Events Alcohol Policy and GSD Custodial Policy for Events. Keep in mind that adhering to these policies can sometimes add unforeseen costs to a planned event. Additional ways unforeseen costs can accrue to in-person events include potential needs for building or event security staffing, and rental of media equipment or hiring of media services technicians.

Reimbursement and Payment of Expenses

The reimbursement and payment process documents your expenses, connects your expenses to your allocated funds, and demonstrates that the expenses are authorized by your group’s treasurer and in line with your group’s mission. Expenses must be submitted within 30 days of the date of the expense. Scans or photographs of receipts, including the vendor name and amount spent, are required. These documents should be in English; if they are in another language we will ask for a full translation.

The reimbursement and payment process is handled through Engage. See this guide to requesting payment from your student group’s funds for more information (note that the currently linked guide is for 2021-22, and an updated guide will reflect some changes in Engage navigation). You can also email [email protected] with questions.

Payments generally can take a week or two from submission. If for any reason you need more immediate action, please contact [email protected]. Our preferred methods of payment are paper checks, either picked up in person or sent through the mail, or Zelle. We can also make payments through PayPal, and in certain special circumstances, Venmo. Please note that bank transfers require significant labor and extra fees to process, and so are available only in special cases if there are no other viable options for payment.

For larger expenses, please reach out in advance as in some cases the student affairs team can pay the expense directly.  It can also be helpful to double check in advance whether a proposed large expense is indeed within our purchasing policies and within your group’s budget.

Please note that the reimbursement and payment process for student groups operates differently from other Harvard University processes, with separate forms and policies. Student groups are separate entities from the university, and so the funds used to make payments for student groups are held externally, at the Harvard University Employees Credit Union (HUECU).

Bank Accounts

In addition to the primary account held by Student Forum, through which student group allocated expenses are reimbursed, some student groups also have bank accounts at the Harvard University Employees Credit Union (HUECU). Groups with bank accounts must complete a financial accountability statement, as well as some HUECU forms, before each year’s leadership can gain access to the account.

GSD student groups that wish to be recognized and eligible for GSD funding and other resources must not maintain external bank accounts apart from those held at HUECU.

If your group is interested in applying to hold a HUECU bank account, an application form is available in Engage. Please note that these accounts are made available when a group demonstrates a need for such an account, and are not standard issue for most groups. Most groups do not have a need for their own separate HUECU account.

Programs involving Minors

There are specific legal issues to consider around working with minors (any person who is not yet 18 years old). If your student group is considering including minors in any programming, consult as soon as possible with Kelly Wisnaskas in the Office of Student Affairs. In some situations, background checks or other screenings are required, so it’s important to allow some time to plan.