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Student Organization Advisors


Chapter 3: Student Organization Advisors


Section 1: Benefits of Advising 
There are many benefits associated with becoming an advisor to a student organization. Here are some:

  • The satisfaction of seeing and helping students learn and develop new skills.
  • Watching a student group come together to share common interests and work toward common goals and an understanding of differences
  • Developing a personal relationship with students
  • Furthering personal goals or interests by choosing to work with an organization that reflects one's interests
  • Sharing one's knowledge with others


Section 2: Advisors Role

Each advisor perceives his/her relation to a student organization differently. Some Advisors play very active roles, attending meetings, working with student officers, and assisting in program planning and development. Others maintain a more distant relationship to the organization. It is hoped that each Advisor will maintain some regular contact with his/her organization. An Advisor accepts responsibility for keeping informed about activities of the organization and for advising officers of the organization on the appropriateness and general merits of policies and activities. However, Advisors are not responsible for the actions or policies of student organizations; students are solely responsible. Advisors should be both accessible and interested and should provide whatever counsel a group or its members might seek.

Given the myriad of purposes, activities, and objectives of various student groups, the role of the Advisor will vary in some degree between groups. The purpose of this section is to outline basic roles of an Advisor. As groups vary in their expectations and needs, it is important that you, as an Advisor, develop an understanding with the organization you are to represent as to the nature of your involvement. The Advisor and group should agree on a set of expectations of one another from the onset and should write this list down as a contract between the group and the Advisor.

Following are some of the roles you may assume as an advisor:

A. Mentor
Many students will come to see their advisor as a mentor and the success of these relationships can last many years and be rewarding for both the student and the advisor. If the student is seeking an education and a career in your field, you may be asked to assist in his/her professional development. To be effective in this capacity, you will need knowledge of their academic program and profession, a genuine interest in the personal and professional development of new professionals, and a willingness to connect students to a network of professionals. You may be approached to review resumes, to connect students with community resources, or to be a sounding board for their ideas of what they want to accomplish in the field.
At times, students will seek out someone to assist with their personal development. In this capacity, a mentor will have a basic understanding of student needs and perspectives, a desire to challenge students intellectually and emotionally while providing support to meet the challenge, and the ability to listen to students' verbal and nonverbal communication. Students may want to talk to you about family or relationship issues, conflicts they are having with other students, or to have conversations about their ideas and thoughts on different subjects.

B. Team Builder
When new officers are elected or new members join the organization, you may need to take the initiative in turning the students from individuals with separate goals and expectations into a team. Team building is important because it enhances the relationships of the students between one another and the advisor. Positive relationships help the organization succeed and to work through conflicts and difficult times.
To accomplish the goal of creating an effective team, it is necessary to conduct a workshop (if you and the students have the time, a full-scale retreat encompassing team building and goal setting could be planned) to engage students in this process. As the advisor, you may consider working with the student officers to develop a plan and to have the students implement it. Training students in effective techniques for team building will keep students invested in the organization and give them the opportunity to learn what it takes to build a team.

C. Conflict Mediator
Inevitably, students are going to join the organization with different agendas, goals, and ideas about how things should function and the direction they should be taking. When working with students who have come in to conflict, it may be necessary to meet with them and have them discuss their issues with each other. In many cases, it may be necessary to remind them that they both want what is in the best interest of the organization. Ask them how they think they can work together, point out the organization's mission, and ask how their conduct is helping the group achieve its mission.

Sometimes, one student may be causing problems with other students. In many cases this student may not realize that his/her actions are causing a problem. In this case, speaking with the student individually could be helpful. Chances are that no one has met with the student previously and discussed how his/her attitudes are impacting other people and how those attitudes or actions can be changed to make everyone feel better. In many cases, the student will appreciate honest feedback.

D. Reflective Agent
One of the most essential components to learning in "out of classroom" activities is providing time for students to reflect on how and what they are doing. As an advisor, you will want your officers to talk to you about how they think they are performing, their strengths, and their weaknesses. Give them the opportunity to discuss their thoughts on their performance. Then be honest with them. Let them know when you agree with their self-perceptions and in a tactful manner let them know when you disagree. Remember, any criticism you provide students should be constructive and you will want to provide concrete examples of actions the student took that seem to contradict their self-perceptions. When students discuss their weaknesses, ask them how they can improve those areas and how you can help them. Students usually have the answer to what they need; they just don't like to ask for help. Remember to have students reflect on their successes and failures.

E. Educator
As an advisor, your role of educator will often come through the role modeling of behavior, guiding the student in reflection of their actions, and being there to answer questions. One of the most difficult actions to take as an advisor is to do nothing, but sometimes this can be the most important action of all. Allow the students to make their decisions even if they do not agree with your ideas. Sometimes, students will succeed; other times, they may fail. The key is to return to the role of the reflective agent and give the students a safe place to reflect on their experiences.

F. Motivator
As an advisor, you may have to motivate students to excel and to carry out their plans and achieve their goals. Some students are easily discouraged and at the first sign of difficulty they may want to quit. You will need to be their "cheerleader" to keep them excited about all of the potential successes they will experience. You can motivate students through the recognition of their efforts, appealing to their desire to create change, and to connecting their experiences here at the University to the experiences they will have in the community.

G. Policy Interpreter
Student organizations operate under policies, procedures, and rules. At times, students may not be aware of these policies and they will do things in an inappropriate manner. The more you know about these policies the better advising you can give to the students on their plans.
As an advisor you will assume numerous roles and all possible roles are not mentioned here. A key idea to remember is that you are an advisor not the leader. You provide guidance, insight, and perspective to students as they work on projects, but you should not be doing the work. Students will learn if they are engaged. Be careful of being challenged into doing the work for a student project. The students make the decisions, and they are accountable for those decisions, and for the successes and failures of their groups.

*Information provided by Jim Mohr, Advisor for Student Organizations and Greek Life, Eastern Washington University

Section 3: Advisor Agreement

The Department of Campus Life appreciates your commitment to serve as an advisor to a recognized student organization at Georgia College & State University.  The advisor can play an integral role in helping student leaders create an environment within their organization that is productive, safe, enjoyable, and educational. We believe it is important to provide clear guidance and support regarding the expected role you will play as you interface with the organization.

A. Advisor Expectations

  1. As an advisor, you should be aware of the Georgia College Student Handbook, the Student Organizations Handbook, the Georgia College Alcohol Policy, and other institutional guidelines that establish expectations for student behavior and activities.  You should ensure that the group and its officers know what resources are available to assist them in making good decisions.  As an employee of Georgia College you are expected to report all rule violations or potential violations to the appropriate university official.  You should be familiar with the organization's constitution and all other governing documents, so that you may advise effectively.  The Department of Campus Life will conduct trainings and offer resources to assist you in this role.
  2. You should be aware of liability issues (i.e. hazing, alcohol, etc.) and advise the organization to make reasonable and prudent decisions regarding these issues in planning activities.
  3. You should meet with the officers of the organization you advise to discuss expectations for roles and responsibilities.  In order to stay connected with the organization, you should regularly attend executive as well as general meetings and be available outside of those meetings for advice and consultation related to the operations of the organization.  That does not necessarily mean you have to be at all meetings.  Additionally, you should assist the organization in developing realistic goals for the academic year.  This will contribute to the educational and leadership development of the students involved.
  4. It is up to the advisor to make sure that his/her supervisor and department support his/her serving as an advisor to a student organization.  As outlined in both the Employee Handbook and Faculty Handbook, advisement of a student organization is within the scope of employment of an employee of the University. Supervisors are encouraged, where reasonably possible, to accommodate such activities on the part of employees whom they supervise.
  5. Advisors are not required or expected to participate directly in student organization activities that may involve significant risk of injury to persons or property, and do so at their own risk.  They are not required to provide transportation in private vehicles, and do so at their own risk and based on their own insurance coverage.  They may assist and advise organizations concerning requirements and procedures for arranging transportation for university-owned vehicles and rented vehicles.  Advisors may advise organizations concerning management of their financial resources, but should not personally handle organization funds, or assume signature authority over organization off-campus bank accounts.


B. Student Organization and Advisor Relationship
The organization-advisor relationship is not a one-way street, in that the student organization and its leaders also have responsibilities.  These responsibilities include appropriate level of communication, providing opportunities for advisor interaction and a commitment to the success of the organization as a whole. 

You are not alone in this responsibility.  The Campus Life staff will continue to be a resource for you as an advisor in a variety of capacities.  Along with the resources we provide your student leaders, we will provide advisors with web-based resources, Officer/Advisor training sessions, and one-on-one consultation.  As a team we can assist our student leaders in their leadership and personal development and ensure the sustainability of their activities and initiatives.

As an advisor to a student organization you advance the qualities of mind and character beyond the classroom.  These include an inquisitive, analytical mind; respect for human diversity and individuality; a sense of civic and global responsibility; sound ethical principles; effective writing, speaking, and quantitative skills; and a healthy lifestyle.

C. Liability Coverage
All University employees are covered under a self-insured Liability Program that is managed by the Georgia Department of Administrative Services.  This plan covers most liabilities against an employee that result from the employee's acts or omissions while in the performance of official duties for the University. 

Activities/Incidents that may be excluded from coverage under the policy are:

      1. Activities that do not arise out of or in the course of employment
      2. Incidents involving private motor vehicles
      3. Incidents involving the transportation of mobile equipment
      4. War 
      5. Statutory coverages, such as workers' compensation
      6. Nuclear incidents related to a nuclear facility
      7. Injury or damage arising out of malfeasance in office or willful neglect or refusal of duty
      8. Injury or damage which is intended or reasonably expected by the insured
      9. Damage to University vehicles caused by other University vehicles
      10. Property damage that is below the policy deductible.

The policy covers the individual liability of University employees and does not imply coverage of liability on behalf of the University.

Advisor Agreement Form

In signing below, you affirm that you have read and understand the expectations outlined in the Advisor Agreement and are willing to serve as advisor to the student organization named below.  You also affirm that you meet the required qualifications of being a salaried, exempt full-time faculty/staff member of Georgia College & State University.  A space has also been provided for the signature of the student organization president and your supervisor, to indicate that a discussion regarding these expectations has taken place between the student organization, your supervisor and yourself.  The signature of the Director of Campus Life will confirm the appointment of the student organization advisor.  If you have any questions regarding the information presented in this document, please contact the Director of Campus Life at (478) 445-4027. 

Thank you for your time and effort in support of student involvement at Georgia College.


As this employees supervisor, I support his/her decision to advise a student organization and recognize that although not included in his/her job description and may not be included in his/her scheduled work hours, this volunteer role does support the mission of the University, and provides a service to students, which does correspond with general job responsibilities.

*Adopted from Texas A&M University and Georgia Institute of Technology


Section 4: Responsibilities of Student Organization

The responsibilities of Student Organizations to their advisor include, but are not limited to:

A. Establishing and sharing a job description for the advisor that clearly defines his/her responsibilities and anticipated lines of communication anticipated.

B. Notifying the advisor of all meetings, activities, and programs. Establishing an attendance schedule at organization meetings, which is mutually agreed upon by the advisor and the student organization.

C. Providing copies of meeting minutes in a timely manner.

D. Meeting regularly with your advisor to discuss organization matters.

E. Consulting the advisor prior to making significant changes to the structure of the Organization.

F. Consulting the advisor when any significant organization policy changes are made.

G. Allowing the advisor to share their thoughts and ideas.

H. Showing respect and value for the advisor whom the organization chosen to serve as guide and mentor.

I. Considering all advice and guidance provided with an open mind and a sincere interest for improvement of daily operational and special event/activity needs.

Some information provided by Jon Kapell, Associate Director of Campus Activities, Drexell University


Section 5: Questions to Ask Student Organization

A. How much involvement is expected or needed?
B. How often does the group meet?
C. How many major activities does the group plan per semester?
D. How experienced are the student leaders?
E. How do your skills match the needs of the organization?
F. What are some of the problem areas that your organization specifically needs advisory assistance in dealing with? Ask for past examples.
G. What are some of the ways the Advisor can be more helpful to the group?
H. Will the Advisor be a silent observer at meetings or an active participant?
I. Should you interrupt during meetings if you think the group is getting off track? How? When?
J. If things get unruly, should you interrupt or remain silent?
K. Is the Advisor expected to give feedback? How? When?
L. Are there areas of the organization that are "hands off" to the advisor?

*Office of Student Leadership Development Programs at East Carolina University


Section 6: Advising Styles and Skills

Situational advising allows you to change your advising style to match the development needs of the individual or organization you advise. Your advising style is the way you advise when you work with someone. It is how you conduct yourself, over time, when you are trying to influence the performance of others.

A. ADVISING STYLES
You will need to vary these based on your assessment of the students/groups readiness level. Many times, advisors may struggle with students because they believe that they need a higher level of interaction or direction when the student is actually able to accept more of a delegating style and vice versa.

  1. Directing: The advisor provides specific instructions and closely supervises task accomplishments. Use this style with students/groups that are at a low level of readiness.
  2. Coaching: The advisor continues to direct and closely supervise task accomplishment, but also explains decisions, solicits suggestions, and supports progress. Use this style with groups that have a few leaders that are at a higher readiness level who will need your support with the rest of the group to get things accomplished.
  3. Supporting: The advisor facilitates and supports the efforts toward task accomplishments and shares responsibilities for decision making with the students. Use this style with students/groups that are just starting to understand the concepts that will lead to success - the group is just starting to "get it".
  4. Delegating: The advisor empowers the students to conduct their own decision making, problem solving, and delegating. Use this style with students/groups that are at a high level of readiness.

B. ADVISING SKILLS

  1. Flexibility: You must be able to move from one style to another in order to meet the needs of the different types of students and multiple circumstances you will encounter.
  2. Diagnosis: You have to learn how to diagnose the needs of the students you advise. Determining what is needed as opposed to what is wanted is sometimes a difficult task. It is also important to note that what is needed is not always the thing that will get the most positive response - it is what will lead the student through a problem, set the standard for the future, or help to teach the student a valuable life lesson.
  3. Contracting: You have to learn how to come to some agreements with students. It can be helpful to work together to reach an agreement as to which advising style they seek from you. This is a valuable lesson for assisting students with understanding the rules of engagement and interaction that will be carried forth as they mature.

*Information provided by Jon Kapell, Associate Director of Campus Activities, Drexel University


Section 7: Liability and Risk Assumption

As an advisor of a student organization, you are the university's representative regarding the organization's activities. As such, you are expected to give reasonable and sound advice to your organization about such things as programs, use of facilities and operational procedures. If you have reason to question an action taken by the organization, express your concern directly to the organization in writing, including the date, a suggested alternative to the questionable action, a warning, etc.

It is important to remember that, in general, while we need to be concerned about liability, we can seriously damage the educational process by being paranoid about it. Just as there is no specific statement that explains faculty liability for every possible classroom incident, there is none that covers all the possible situations student organizations might encounter. If you have concerns about a situation unique to your organization or to a specific event sponsored by the organization you advise, please contact someone from the university staff who is knowledgeable about liability and risk management.

Although there is no way to completely eliminate risk and legal liability associated with a program or event, there are ways to reduce risk and provide a safer environment for program participants. Here are a few things that your organization can do to identify and reduce risk:

A. Complete a Pre-Event Planning Form to clarify the needs and expectations of participants.
B. Identify specific risks involved in the event. These could include physical risks (such as an event with physical activity) and liability risks (such as events involving alcohol, minors, or travel).
C. Identify options for reducing risks by including, but not limited to:

      1. Hiring a third party vendor or contractor
      2. Purchasing additional liability insurance
      3. Preparing liability waivers, if necessary.
      4. Providing advanced training
      5. Assuming a worst-case scenario' and preparing for it in order to reduce likelihood of it occurring
      6. Utilizing waivers that outline the specific nature and risk associated with the event.
      7. Canceling the event if the conditions are dangerous or the group is not prepared to assume full responsibility for the risk involved

D. Assess the capability of the group to manage risk.
E. Identify the challenges in managing risk, as well as resources to assist in your planning.
F. Develop a plan of action in reducing risk.
G. Communicate with everyone involved (officers, members, advisors, participants, facilities staff, etc.)

*Information taken from Ball State University Downloads for Student Organizations and Advisors and Adapted from University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Student Organization Advisor Manual

Section 8: Officer Transition
One of the most important functions of an advisor is to assist in the transition from one set of organization officers to the next. As the stability of the organization, the advisor has seen changes, knows what works and can help maintain continuity. Investing time in a good officer transition early on will mean less time spent throughout the year nursing new officers through the quarter.

The key to a successful transition is making sure new officers know their jobs BEFORE they take office. Expectations should be clearly defined. There are a number of ways to conduct the officer transition. The following examples demonstrate two commonly used methods.

A. The Team Effort
The team effort involves the outgoing-officer board, the advisor, and the incoming officer board. This method involves a retreat or series of meetings where outgoing officers work with incoming officers on:

  1. Past records/notebooks for their office and updating those together
  2. Discussion topics should include:

   a. Completed projects for the past year
   b. Upcoming/incomplete projects
   c. Challenges and setbacks
   d. Anything the new officers need to know to do their job effectively

The advisor's role may be to:

  • Facilitate discussion and be a sounding board for ideas.
  • Organize and provide the structure of a retreat.
  • Offer suggestions on various questions.
  • Refrain from telling new officers what they should do.
  • Fill in the blanks." If an outgoing officer doesn't know how something was done, or doesn't have records to pass on to the new officer, you can help that officer by providing the information he or she doesn't have.

The structure of a team effort retreat can take many forms. The advisor's role in this process is to provide historical background when needed, help keep goals specific, attainable and measurable and provide advice on policies and procedures.

B. One-on-One Training & Advisor with Officers
While it is ideal to have the outgoing officer team assist in training the incoming officers, often it is left up to the advisor to educate the incoming officers. In that situation, there should be a joint meeting of the new officers, as described in section 4 of the above outline. After that meeting, the advisor should meet individually with each officer; examine the notebook of the previous officer (or create a new one). Things to include in a new notebook:

      1. Any forms the officers may need to use
      2. Copies of previous meeting agendas
      3. A copy of the organization's constitution and bylaws


Talk about what the officers hope to accomplish in the forthcoming year. Assess the officer's role in the organization. What are the expectations of each position? What are the student's expectations of the position and his/her goals?

*Information provided by Jim Mohr, Advisor for Student Organizations and Greek Life, Eastern Washington University

Section 9: Retreats

A. Why Should Your Organization Have a Retreat or Workshop?
Organization retreats and workshops enable student organizations to briefly get away from the distractions of school and work and to focus on the needs of the organization and the needs of the individual members of the organization. Planning for the future will enable an organization to operate more efficiently. By setting goals and planning together, members of an organization can operate more effectively as a team.

B. Establish the Purpose for Your Retreat
Team Building, Skills Training, Communications, Goal Setting, Problem Solving, Planning, Learning, Orientation, Socializing, Transition, Revitalization, Conflict Resolution

C. Determining Who the Retreat Is For
New Officers, Executive Board, All Organization Members, etc.

D. Selecting a Facility
On Campus or Off Campus; convenience vs. isolation; urban or rural getaway.
When looking for an off campus retreat location consider nearby summer camps. They often charge cheap rates in the off season. Be sure to check availability, accessibility, and accommodations. Don't forget about costs and contracts.

E. Transportation
If your event is off campus, members should be provided with adequate and safe transportation.

F. Fodd and Drink
Before deciding on a menu, consider cost, cooking facilities, preparation and clean up. Try cooking together it makes a great team building activity. On a tight budget? Consider potluck.

G. Selecting the Best Format

  • Workshops presented by an "expert" -advertising, program planning, public speaking, fund-raising, etc.
  • Experiential Exercises- team building, brainstorming, communications skills, ropes course, etc.
  • Recreational Exercises, skiing, hiking, canoeing, biking, etc.

H. Selecting the Facilitators and Presenters
Organization Officers, Organization Members, Faculty Advisor, Other Faculty Members.

I. Planning the Retreat
Have members sign up to participate on committees. Remember people support what they help to create. Suggested committees: Transportation, Food/Drink, Lodging, Recreation, Programming, Clean-Up

J. Resources in Developing Your Workshop and Exercises
Structured experiences books, reference books, videotapes; Faculty Advisor; Faculty Members

K. Evaluating Your Retreat
Evaluation Forms.
Ask members what they thought of the experience. What would they change? What would they keep the same? Ask the presenters what they thought of the experience. What could have made it better?

Section 10: Resources

Astin, A.W. (1984). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 25, 297-308.

Hovland, M., Anderson, E., McGuire, W., Crockett, D., Kaufman, J., and Woodward, D. (1997). Academic Advising for Student Success and Retention. Iowa City, IA: Noel-Levitz, Inc.

Floerchinger, D. (1992). Enhancing the role of student organization advisors in building a positive campus community. Campus Activities Programming, 26(6), 39-46.

Johnson, D.W. and Johnson, F.P.(1991). Joining Together Group Theory and Group Skills. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Lorenz, N. and Shipton, W. (1984). A Practical Approach to Group Advising and Problem Solving. A Handbook for Student Group Advisors. Schuh, J.H. (Ed.). American College Personnel Association.

Greenwell, GNA. (2002). Learning the rules of the road: A beginning advisor's journey. Campus Activities Programming, 35 (2), 56-61.

Vest, M.V. (2002). Years of experience are not enough: Seasoned advisors must continually adapt. Campus Activities Programming, 35(2), 62-66.

Dunkel, N.W. and Schuh, J.H. (1997). Advising student groups and organizations. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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