Advisers play an important role in an organization. They can provide helpful insights into everything your organization does.  Advisers also help maintain a sense of continuity and history to groups with frequent turnover in members.  Furthermore, you need to have an adviser to register your student organization.  Read on to find out more about finding an adviser and how to develop and maintain good adviser/group relations.


How to Find an Adviser

  1. Check to see if the adviser you had last year is still interested.
  2. Consider what your organization is all about and either:
    • find a faculty/staff member who has similar interests; or
    • find a faculty/staff member that your organization feels would be a good adviser, regardless of their background.
  3. Consult a Center for Student Enrichment staff member for suggestions.
  4. After making a list of potential advisers, prioritize them. Then approach each person about the possibility of becoming an adviser for your group.
  5. When you are asking someone to be an adviser for your student organization, be sure to mention the following:
    • Explain what your organization does, its goals, etc., so they have a better idea of what they are getting themselves into.
    • Tell them the special qualities they have to be a good adviser.
    • Let them know the time commitment and responsibilities they will have by becoming an adviser for your organization.

Maintaining a Good Adviser/Group Relationship

  • COMMUNICATION is the number one way to maintain a good relationship.  Keep your adviser informed about what is going on in your organization.
  • Have an open, honest discussion of expectations of each other.
    • Do you expect your adviser to be at regular meetings?  Executive board meetings?
    • When is it important to consult your adviser?
  • Use your adviser properly.  Advisers should not be expected to make decisions for the group or do the work of the organization.  They should be given the opportunity to provide their advice and insight for your consideration.  It is especially important to consult with your adviser before making important decisions -- especially if there are finances, safety, or legal considerations. 
  • Invite your adviser to all of your meetings and activities.  Advisers are busy people and probably won’t be able to show up at everything you do.  They will, however, appreciate your consideration in asking them.
  • Send your adviser copies of letters, memos, agendas, minutes, etc.
  • Consider having an “Adviser’s Report” as a regular feature on your meeting agendas.
  • Encourage your adviser to give feedback and share his/her opinions.
  • Let your adviser know that you appreciate his/her time and contributions.

Strategies to Aid in the Process

  • Set mutual expectations for the organization and for the members, including the adviser.
  • Build relationships with one another, and keep the lines of communication open.
  • Evaluate the pursuit of your goals, differences, make improvement, and celebrate successes!

Points to Remember

  • This relationship is a partnership.  The responsibility of building this relationship is on both the adviser and students.
  • Base the relationship on open, direct communication with each other.  This includes sharing needs, responsibilities, and expectations.  Be prepared to negotiate and compromise.  Provide members, including the adviser, with constructive feedback as well as positive reinforcement.
  • Recognize various roles advisers and students play in and out of the organization.  Discuss this and how it will impact the organization.
  • Advisers and students both make mistakes.  Accept them, discuss them, learn from them, and move on.
  • Both students and advisers grow, change, and learn different things at different rates.  Be supportive; challenge each other to try new ideas to improve.  Learn from each other.
  • Remember to have fun and spend some time getting to know your adviser or students outside of their role in the organization.

Advising a Student Organization at NMU

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.

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!

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.

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 take 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.

Advise 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 pursuing 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!

Communication

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 – text, email, 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Probably not. When you are advising a student organization, you are acting on behalf of Northern Michigan University and are, therefore, under the protection of the University’s liability coverage. It is recognized that as an adviser you do not control the activities of a student organization.

A word of caution: Avoid situations where you as an individual are personally contributing to a potentially dangerous situation (i.e., providing alcohol for group members, arranging for an outdoor challenge experience that is not under the supervision of professional staff, etc.). By doing this, you are helping to remove yourself from liability exposure; you will also be role modeling appropriate behavior for the students that you are working with.

A final note:  Even though it is recognized that organization members plan and implement their own activities, you as an adviser can play a very important role by helping them think through potentially dangerous situations. Activities such as trips, social activities, competitions, etc., will be better, safer events if you ask questions and offer advice as to safety factors and precautions that could be taken. You can help keep our students safe!

Please note:  Specific questions concerning adviser liability can be directed to Julia Santa Maria, Assistant Director of the Center for Student Enrichment, at 906-227-1772 or Andrew Zerbel, Risk and Insurance Manager, at 906-227-2745.

The amount of time involved varies greatly from organization to organization, depending upon the nature of the group, how active it is, and what their expectations for an adviser are. The time commitment is an issue that should be discussed with organization members so as to avoid any misunderstandings.

It is really special to know college students outside of the classroom or an office setting.  Advising is a great way to get to know students as individuals – what they think, what is important to them and how they view the university and the world around them.  It is very rewarding to assist students in accomplishing something that is important to them.