Do's and Don'ts of Advising

Advising Tips

Every student organization will differ and may require a different approach by the advisor. The following information can serve as a beginning point.

  • In the beginning of the advising relationship, agree on clear expectations about the role of the advisor and the role of the student organization. Discuss philosophies and reach a consensus. The activities under the Creating Expectations section will facilitate this process.
  • Read the constitution of the group, get to know the members, attend events, and generally make yourself seen so that they know who you are.
  • Assist in the establishment of responsibilities for each officer and member.
  • Develop a strong relationship with the president or chairperson and other officers. This is key because these students will be your main contact with the group.
  • Discuss concerns with an officer’s performance in a one-on-one setting. Whenever someone does something extremely well, be sure to let others know.
  • Maintain a sense of humorits college, not rocket science. Unless, of course, you are the advisor to the Rocket Science Club.
  • Be honest and open with all communication. The students need to feel that you are just in your dealings with them.
  • Realize that you have the power of persuasion, but use this judiciously. The students sometimes need to learn how to fail.
  • Help them to see alternatives and provide an outside perspective.
  • Remember: praise in public, criticize in private.
  • Find a balance between being the strict naysayer and the laissez-faire friend. The students must feel that you are supportive of them and yet that you will hold them accountable for their actions.

Eleven Skills for Advisors to Teach

As an advisor you are a role model, mentor, and teacher for the group. In your role as a teacher you can help the students develop certain skills that will help make the organization more effective.  Eleven skills have been outlined to be taught to students through consistent, planned advising.  This outline provides a clear, comprehensive lesson plan for advisors to utilize in their efforts toward student skill development.

Skills for Accomplishing Tasks

  • Problem Solving: the ability to solve problems creatively. The process includes these components: identify the real problem, assess all components of the problem, weigh what is relevant, pursue alternatives, and identify a solution.
  • Planning and Organization: the ability to set goals and coordinate a variety of human and material resources to accomplish these goals.
  • Delegating: the ability to identify or develop a task, and then share the responsibility, authority, resources, and information needed to accomplish it.
  • Decision-making: the ability to evaluate existing information and to be willing and confident enough to make a choice of what should be done.
  • Financial Management: the ability to plan, develop, and implement a budget, including cost and expense estimates, budget implementation, and budget evaluation.

Skills for Improving Relationships

  • Persuasion: the ability to identify our own opinions and use logic and communication to change the opinions of others.
  • Relationship-building: the process of creating, developing, and maintaining connections between groups or individuals.
  • Adaptability: the ability to cope with a variety of situations and kinds of people.

Skills for Self-Improvement

  • Stress Tolerance: the ability to cope with taxing situations, while getting the job done and having a satisfying life.
  • Initiative: the ability to take responsibility for originating new projects, ability to think and act without being urged, the ability to develop new ideas or methods.
  • Risk-taking: the willingness to try something new or make a decision without the assurance of success or improvement.

Twenty Tips to Increase Group Productivity

Adapted from M. J. Michal

  • Know what the students expect of you as an advisor.
  • Let the group and individual members know what you expect of them.
  • Express a sincere interest in the group and its mission. Stress the importance of each individual's contribution to the whole.
  • Assist the group in setting realistic, attainable goals. Ensure success in the first project undertaken, and then increase responsibility.
  • Have the goals or objectives of the group firmly in mind. Know the purposes of the group and know what things need to be accomplished to meet the goal.
  • Assist each member in meeting his or her needs while helping the group achieve its goals. Understand why people become involved. Learn strengths and emphasize on them. Help each person grow and learn through their involvement by providing opportunities.
  • Know and understand the students with whom you are working. Different groups require different approaches.
  • Assist the group in determining the needs of the people the group is serving.
  • Express a sincere interest in each member. Encourage everyone to be responsible.
  • Assist the members in understanding the group’s dynamics and human interaction. Recognize that at times the process is more important than the content.
  • Realize the importance of the peer group and its effect on each member’s participation or lack thereof. Communicate that each individual’s efforts are needed and appreciated.
  • Assist the group in developing a system by which they can evaluate their progress. Balance task orientation with social needs of the members.
  • Use a reward and recognition system for work well done.
  • Develop a style that balances active and passive group membership.
  • Be aware of the various roles you will have: clarifier, consultant, counselor, educator, facilitator, friend, information source, mentor, and role model.
  • Do not allow yourself to be placed in the position of the chairperson.
  • Be aware of the institutional power structure--both formal and informal. Discuss institutional developments and policies with members.
  • Provide continuity for the group from semester to semester.
  • Challenge the group to grow and develop. Encourage independent thinking and decision-making.
  • Be creative and innovative. Keep a sense of humor!

Goal Setting

Creating a vision and setting goals to reach that vision are essential to progress and success in any organization. It is especially important in a student group because of the high turnover rate. Since much can get lost from year to year, it is necessary for group officers to write down their goals, provide a copy for the faculty advisor or have them in the minutes and periodically review them with the membership to evaluate their progress.  This is often effective at the beginning of a term so that the members feel as though they have something to strive for throughout the year. These steps will serve as a helpful guide in a goal setting meeting or retreat.

  • Have group members brainstorm concepts for what they want the group to look like in a specific time period, such as one year. Write down their ideas and turn them into a concise vision or mission statement. This is the broad ideal view of the future of the group. From this general vision, eventual get more and more specific.
  • Divide the concepts into manageable sections, such as: publicity, recruitment, successful event planning, etc. Have member’s list possible goals for each area; try to reach some consensus. For instance, We will recruit 20 new members by March 15.
  • The goals should be ambitious, yet attainable.
  • For each goal, have members design specific steps to reach them.
  • Put everything in writing and have the leadership distribute this Action Plan to all members.
  • Follow up weekly to evaluate progress.
  • Celebrate when milestones are reached.

The above was adapted from:
Advisors. Center for Student Involvement. University of Florida (2006)

Advisor’s Self-Evaluation Checklist

Please answer the following questions as they relate to your role as an organization advisor.

The role of an advisor varies, but it is always an important one. The scope and frequency of an organization’s activities, the effectiveness of its officers, the time commitments of the advisor, and several other factors determine the level of involvement the advisor will have with the organization. An advisor should be committed to the group’s success, and may need to sometimes go above and beyond the call of duty. An advisor should never be resigned to only serve as a signatory on forms.  Considering their expertise and experience, advisors can often supply significant insights to group matters such as goal setting, programming, conflict resolution, and group growth/development. It is often the advisor who can aid in maintaining an organization by providing continuity and by serving as an information source. In short, a good advisor can help nurture an organization’s success.

The pattern of teamwork between and advisor and the organization must be specifically tailored to the personalities and needs of both parties. Some guidance is necessary in developing such a relationship. Listed below are some expectations which can be negotiated between student organization leaders and their advisor. This form is designed to help advisors and officers arrive at a clear and mutually agreed upon advisor role.

The advisor and the officers of the organization should rank the following items from 1 to 5, with 1 being an essential duty of the advisor and 5 being absolutely not an advisor’s duty. Both parties should then meet to compare answers and discuss any differences. For items that are determined not to be the responsibility of the advisor, it is important to establish whose responsibility it will be.

___ ___ I actively provide motivation and encouragement to members.

___ ___ I know the goals of the organization.

___ ___ I know the group’s members.

___ ___ I attend regularly scheduled executive board meetings.

___ ___ I attend regularly scheduled organizational meetings.

___ ___ I meet regularly with the officers of the organization.

___ ___ I attend the organization’s special events.

___ ___ I assist with the orientation and training of new officers.

___ ___ I help provide continuity for the organization.

___ ___ I confront the negative behavior of members.

___ ___ I understand principles of group development.

___ ___ I understand how students grow and learn.

___ ___ I understand the principles that lead to orderly meetings.

___ ___ I have read the group’s constitution and by-laws.

___ ___ I recommend and encourage without imposing my ideas and preferences.

___ ___ I monitor the organization’s financial records.

___ ___ I understand the principles of good fundraising.

___ ___ I understand how issues of diversity affect the organization.

___ ___ I attend conferences with the organization’s students.

___ ___ I know the steps to follow in developing a program.

___ ___ I can identify what members have learned by participating in the organization.

___ ___ I know where to find assistance when I encounter problems I can solve.

The Do's & Don'ts of Advising

Do...

  • Do serve as a resource to the organization
  • Do interpret and clarify university policy and procedure
  • Do suggest program ideas
  • Do serve as a personal role model
  • Do advise officers in decision-making matters
  • Do provide historical continuity for the organization
  • Do act consistent with what you say
  • Do allow the group to succeed
  • Do allow the group to fail
  • Do teach leadership
  • Do keep your sense of humor

Don't...

  • Don't control the group
  • Don't run the organization meetings
  • Don't have veto power over decisions
  • Don't be the sole recruiter for new members
  • Don't know it all
  • Don't say "I told you so"
  • Don't break promises
  • Don't take ownership of the group
  • Don't be the leader

Material taken from:
Dunkel, N. W., & Schuh, J. H. (1998). Advising student groups and organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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