Advising a Student Organization at Northern Michigan University

Advisers play an important role in both the short and long term success of student organizations.  Advisers bring experience, expertise, and perspective to student organizations and they also, in many cases, provide a sense of both organization and institutional history.  An effective adviser is a major asset for a student organization.

In return for their time, effort and talent, advisers are rewarded by having the opportunity to share in the challenges, successes, accomplishments and camaraderie that are the hallmark of most student organizations.  In addition, advising a student organization is a great way for faculty and staff to keep in touch with today’s college students – what is important to them, how they feel about different issues and what their lives as young adults are like.  Finally, advisers are contributing to a vibrant student life on campus that is a part of Northern’s educational mission and is a proven retention factor.

Following are some guidelines/expectations that effective advisers have incorporated into their efforts.  They should form the basis for an upfront discussion with the officers/members of a student organization you are considering advising or may be returning to advise for another year.

Determine Your Role as an Adviser

Have a conversation about your role as an adviser with the officers and possibly the membership of an organization before you agree to taking on the responsibility and continue to do so annually.  Discussion items should include:

  • Mutual expectations.  When do you want/need to be present?  Executive Board meetings?  Regular business meetings?  Which events and activities?
  • When should you be consulted with?
  • How will you communicate with each other?
  • What do you perceive the overall time commitment to be?
  • What role should you play as an adviser in terms of providing advice and providing input in decisions?
  • When and how can officers and members of the group access you?
  • What background information on the organization would be helpful for you (purpose, goals, annual events, current membership, constitution, bylaws, etc.)?

Talking through these and any other pertinent questions will provide a solid foundation for a productive relationship.

Establish regular and effective communication with the leaders and members of organizations.  As with most things involving organizations and people, good communication is the foundation for success. Suggestions/practices from advisers include:

  • attend the general membership meetings.
  • attend executive board meetings if the organization you are advising conducts them.
  • try to attend as many of the organization’s activities and events as possible.
  • discuss ways in which you can make yourself available to the organization – e-mail, telephone, in person, etc.
  • encourage the organization to keep and distribute minutes.  This not only keeps you in the loop when you are not present at a meeting, but other members who are missing as well.
  • communicate an expectation that you are informed/consulted with before the organization makes major decisions.  This is NOT an attempt to control or limit the activity of an organization but rather giving you the opportunity to point out considerations that should be discussed.

Provide advice and support.  This is central to being an adviser.  Advisers should not be directing or deciding what an organization should do.  Advisers should point out the potential advantages/shortfalls of particular programs, events, and courses of action.  This is often done most effectively with questions:

  • What are the benefits of pursing this course of action?
  • What are the negatives or consequences if things do not go according to plan?
  • Where will this leave you financially?

Having group members consider well thought out questions is an excellent teaching/learning technique. Be especially attentive to situations that may present potential financial, safety, or legal concerns.  Advisers should also provide support for officers and members during challenging times.  It means a lot to these active, involved students!

Have a good knowledge of the organization.  What is the purpose and mission of the student organization you are advising or considering advising?  Does it have a vision?  What types of activities does it typically sponsor or participate in?  How does the organization operate?  Some ways of becoming informed about a student organization are:

  • checking to see if the organization has any historical files and records that can be reviewed.
  • reviewing the Constitution and Bylaws of the organization if they are available.
  • having conversations with the officers and members of the organization.

The level of an adviser’s involvement with a student organization varies depending upon the nature of the organization.  Clear expectations of what you expect from the organization and vice versa are the basis for a productive relationship.  Activities and operating procedures also vary greatly from one student organization to another.  Please feel free to contact the staff in the Center for Student Enrichment with questions and for advice/consultation on specific issues.  Thanks for being an adviser to a Northern Michigan University student organization!