The Role of the Student Organization Advisor

Congratulations!  You have decided to serve as an advisor to one of Cal State LA’s student organizations.  While serving as an advisor helps fulfill a recognition requirement, this important role you have decided to play can ultimately enhance the experience and the accomplishments of the students you advise. Not without its challenges, advising a student group also has its many rewards.  Indeed, you will see that the time and dedication you have committed to advising student leaders will be evident in the programs, initiatives, and goals completed by your officers and group members. Understanding the many functions of an advisor can help you better serve the needs of your students, provide insight, and help the organization navigate the University’s policies and procedures.  Behind almost every successful student group is a faculty advisor with the “right stuff.”  This section is devoted to providing you with the resources essential both to your advising experience and to your student organization’s success on campus.  As a complement to the Student Organization Handbook, this reference guide has specific information for advisors, tips and techniques, as well as helpful suggestions that will aid you in your role:

Student Organization Recognition

Central to your organization’s success is the maintenance of its recognition.  While organization officers will receive reminders in a timely manner, reminding students of the required procedures, meeting dates, and requirements can help ensure student groups gain and maintain their recognized status. Generally organizations should plan on completing these steps in order gain or maintain recognition:

  1. Submit required student organization forms:

New Organizations:

  • A completed Student Organization Petition for Recognition containing the names, signatures, and CIN of at least 30 currently enrolled Cal State LA students (in blue or black ink only).
  • A completed Student Organization Roster with the names of at least five currently enrolled California State University, Los Angeles students who are, or have stated in writing an intent to be, members of your organization (in blue or black ink only).
  • A constitution that meets University requirements as outlined in the sample document.

New and Returning Organizations:

  • A completed Student Organization Officer Information Form with the names and the contact information of at least five officers. All officers of the new organization must be currently enrolled or continuing Cal State LA students, in good standing at the University, with a Cal State LA cumulative grade point average of 2.0 or higher. (Please see here for additional eligibility requirements.)  
  1.  Send two members to attend the required Organization Development Conference

Fall 2017

Spring 2018


August 16, 2017, 9am-2pm

University-Student Union


January 19, 2018, 9am-2pm 

University-Student Union

  1.  Follow all University policies and procedures including but not limited to :

Detailed information on how new student organizations can gain recognition and how returning student organization groups can maintain recognition can be found in this section of the handbook.  Should you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact CSI at 323-343-5110. 

Student Organization Advisor Eligibility 

Each officially recognized student organization must have a university advisor who is either a faculty member or a professional staff member. Part-time faculty and professional staff can serve as advisors.  Advisors must be Cal State LA employees and may not be auxiliary (e.g. University Student Union, University Auxiliary Services or Associated Students, Inc.) employees. Student organizations may have an advisory board composed of community members or alumni, however at least one advisor must be a faculty or professional staff member of Cal State LA. 

CSI, in compliance with CSU Executive Order 1068, conducts student organization advisor eligibility reviews and provides advisors with updated information and training on how to serve as an advisor.  For more information regarding advisor eligibility requirements and resources please contact CSI at 323-343-5110.  

Cal State LA Student Organization Banking 

Any and all bank accounts for recognized student organizations must bank through the University-Student Union (U-SU) process as required by CSU Administrative Policy 3141.01 and the Cal State LA Student Organization Funds Administration Policy. Any organization accounts at other financial institutions must be closed and the funds deposited in a new account through U-SU no later than June 30, 2017. Failure to comply with these policies can ultimately affect your student organization’s recognition at Cal State LA.  For more information on this policy and on the procedures for student organization banking visit the following sections of the handbook:

So You’ve Decided to Serve as an Advisor…Now What? 

Ideally, your advising experience entails more than signing off on forms.  The following suggested guidelines will help you and your student leaders define your role in relation to the student organization’s needs and expectations:

Set Expectations

Outlining your expectations for your officers and vice versa will not only help avoid disappointment if these expectations are not met but is a great step toward defining your personal and professional standards.

More often than not, miscommunication of expectations on the part of the advisor and the executive board can lead toward a lack of information and ultimately to dissolution of the relationship.  To avoid this, meet with your organization leaders to discuss expectations both parties will have of one another.

What a Student Organization Officer May Expect of an Advisor:

  • The advisor assists the group in formulating long-range goals and in planning and initiating short-term projects.
  • The student organization will find the advisor invaluable as a resource person.  Oftentimes the advisor has had previous experience and can provide the officers and members with background information.
  • The advisor may suggest ways by which the group meetings can be improved.
  • The advisor represents the group and its interests in staff and faculty meetings.
  • The officers and members will find the advisor able to assist them in evaluating group projects, performance, and progress.
  • The advisor is generally able to make suggestions that will permit the officer to improve leadership skills.
  • The advisor is familiar with campus facilities, services, and procedures that affect group activities.
  • The advisor takes an active part in the orderly transition of responsibilities between old and new officers at the end of the year.

What an Advisor May Expect of a Student Organization Officer:

  • The officer should keep the advisor informed as to all organizational activities, meeting times, locations, and agendas.
  • The advisor should receive minutes of all meetings.
  • The officer should meet regularly with the advisor and use him/her as a sounding board for discussing organizational plans and problems.

Other Considerations:

  • Discuss modes of communication that will meet everyone’s expectations.  These include; how best to reach one another; contact information to be shared; agreeing upon when and how often to meet; and what forms of communication will not receive the best results.
  • The amount of time each party has committed to the organization should be generally outlined and discussed.  Realistically determine how much time you can allot to your organization.
  • As a group outline how to hold each other accountable to these expectations.  Setting them as a group and reviewing them regularly can help alleviate any confusion and can help obtain buy-in from both parties.  Hold your student group leaders accountable to the expectations they’ve agreed upon and ensure that you’re doing your part as well!

What the University expects of Student Organization Advisors

  • Be familiar with the organization’s objectives, constitution and bylaws.
  • Meet regularly with student leaders to give them support and encourage them to accept their responsibilities, meet their objectives, and develop as leaders.
  • Be familiar with University policies and risk management procedures to assist leaders in their efforts to conduct business on campus.
  • Be able to help members explore alternatives as they plan activities and events, realizing that final decisions and organizational management is the responsibility of the members.
  • Help leaders during periods of transition in an effort to maintain continuity.
  • Assist the organization in their efforts to secure funding from campus and/or community sources within approved guidelines.
  • Alert student leaders to potential organizational problems.

For an advisor to be effective it is very important that they be kept informed as to the operation and needs of the organization. It is the responsibility of the student leaders to see that the advisor receives all minutes of meetings and is kept abreast of the program, upcoming events, and meetings. It is not the role of an advisor to “impose” themselves on an organization, but to be an available resource to the leadership and members.

Understanding Your Role(s) 

From teachers to mentors and coaches to event planners, an advisor wears many hats at different times.  Knowing this beforehand can help you to prepare for the multi-faceted role advisors play.


As an advisor you may:

  • Serve as a resource in your area of expertise.
  • Introduce new program ideas in line with the organization’s mission and goals.
  • Challenge students to meet high standards and expectations for performance.
  • Provide guidance to individuals in their roles as leaders.
  • Challenge the organization to build upon previous accomplishments.

Leadership Development

As an advisor you may:

  • Assist in the development of a whole individual by encouraging the development of leadership skills, responsibilities, ethical and moral judgments, and an appreciation of various cultures in the students you advise.
  • Assist in planning retreats and training programs.

Financial Supervision

As an advisor you may:

  • Maintain awareness of the nature, extent and pattern of group expenditures and income.
  • Spend time working with the organization treasurer, ensure accurate record keeping, and introduce corrective measures when necessary.

Transition Assistance/Continuity

As an advisor you may:

  • Assist the organization with election procedures and orienting the new officers.
  • Encourage that written reports on programs and activities be kept on file and accessible to all members.
  • Recommend that the organization maintain historical information about their accomplishments and traditions to keep continuity from past to present and present to future.
  • Serve as the organization’s archivist, especially when organization leaders graduate.

Consultation on Programs

As an advisor you may:

  • Play an active role in assisting students to plan meaningful and successful programs.
  • Offer ideas and suggestions openly and freely.


As an advisor you may:

  • Have a unique opportunity to interact with students on different levels – student, leader, personal, etc. 
  • Situations may arise where you may identify students that are having problems in their personal life and struggling with their work or with effectiveness in the organization. 
  • Private discussions or referral to appropriate University departments may be necessary to best approach a solution.


As an advisor you:

  • Have responsibilities to both the University and the organization to keep the best interests of both.  The degree of supervision will depend on the organization.  Work with and through the officers to maintain standards.

Understanding What It Means to Work with Student Organization Officers and Members

Student organization officers and members are first and foremost students. Working with these leaders requires an understanding of their schedules, other commitments, and their dedication to the organization.  Ultimately, officers serve as the organization’s leadership and the guiding force behind the programs and initiatives set by the group.  As their advisor, understanding the following will allow you to provide them the advice and guidance needed:

Working with Student Organization Officers

  • The Officer’s Influence; The officer can make or break an organization. The officer’s influence is, and should be, even greater than that of the advisor.
  • Regular Meetings with the Officer; These meetings typically serve as occasions for discussion of the officer’s role within the organization. It is here that the primary responsibilities of the advisor are discharged.
  • Preparing the Agenda; A good vehicle for discussion at meetings with the officer is the planning of the agenda for the next meeting of the organization. This will not only provide a structure for conducting the organization’s meetings, but it can also act as a point of departure for the discussion of other areas of mutual concern.
  • Basic Objective of Advising; Discussions with the officer should be based on genuine concern for the creative and personal development of the officer and the members of the organization. 

Working with the Student Organization

  • If the officer, with the advisor’s assistance, has developed a good agenda, the advisor will have very little to do at student organization meetings. This is as it should be; the advisor is not leader of the group! There are, however, occasions when active participation by the advisor may be necessary.
  • The following techniques are suggested when an organization is planning a questionable activity:
  • Other ideas may be substituted for the one that is unsatisfactory.
  • The difficulties inherent to the plan can be pointed out.
  • The advisor may request that the group obtain the opinion of the individuals or agencies affected by the action.
  • The advisor may keep in mind that the Center for Student Involvement is available when an advisor has questions about the advisability of an organization’s plans.
  • When members seem unnecessarily bound by tradition or non-creative thinking in their planning, the first thing an organization will do is to pull out the report from the previous year. This then becomes a blueprint with little or no deviation.  Instead of group members approaching a program creatively, they frequently tend to rely on approaches from the past; namely those of last year’s committee. What can be done to turn the group to its own resources?

Develop Your Advising Style

Advisors have their own style when it comes to working with students.  Tailor your style to the group of students you work with and their expectations of an advisor.  Whether formal or casual, your approach to advising should always empower and enable students as they plan, coordinate, and implement their goals.  While maintaining your own personality and upholding your expectations, the following tips can help you create your style that will meet their needs while providing the guidance they seek:

  • The advisor will want to point out factors bearing on the ideas presented by the officer without imposing his/her own bias.
  • If an idea is inappropriate, the advisor should try to encourage the officer without imposing his/her own bias.
  • The advisor may wish to periodically evaluate the student in his/her effectiveness as an officer.

My Student Organization Wants to Program… What Now? 

Events and programs are a great way for your organization to share its mission, values, and interests with the rest of the campus community.  They can also serve as a means of raising funds and increasing organization membership.  As an advisor, the level of involvement you dedicate to your organization’s events should be determined early on or during the planning process.  Your involvement can range from attending and performing at events to helping out with setup and breakdown.  Regardless of what level you and your organization agree upon, there are several requirements all advisors and officers should be aware of and comply with should they decide to hold events on or off campus.

Event and Program Planning

The following suggestions may encourage the group to develop more creative programming:

  • Brainstorming is a technique generally used to promote creativity. It calls for the student officer to define a fairly broad problem area and throw it open for rapid fire, uninhibited, top-of-the-head suggestions from all members.  One of its assets is the informal atmosphere it generates, in which even the most passive or withdrawn member feels free to contribute.
  • The organization members during their discussion should pretend that the program area in which they wish to work has never been explored before and that the specific event for which they are preparing has never been attempted in any form.  What are the possibilities for theme, for location, for refreshments, etc.?
  • These techniques should be part of the officer’s resources. If he/she does not recognize a situation in which they might profitably apply, then it is recommended that the advisor make appropriate suggestions.
  • Encourage your organization to evaluate each event so as to measure the success of the program.  The feedback received might also assist future planning endeavors.

Event Registration Procedures

  • Student organizations are required to complete and submit an Event Registration Form for all on or off campus events which are defined as any activity that is other than a meeting and any meetings or activities that include:
    • Food
    • Alcohol
    • External fundraising
    • Benefits to Proceeds Transactions
  • Completed forms must be signed by a recognized officer and the organization advisor before they are submitted to CSI, U-SU Room 204, at least 10 business days prior to the event.  Other forms may also be required to be submitted with the Event Registration Form depending upon the nature of the event.  Failure to complete all sections/fields of the form or to supply any other required forms can delay the review process and/or may require your organization to select another event date until the form is considered complete. 
  • It must be completed for any student organization event held on or off campus.  However, student organizations do not need to register meetings. 
  • This form must be completed at least 10 working days in advance of the event and needs to be completed before you confirm any reservation or distribute publicity.
  • Should your organization wish to serve or sell food, the Temporary Food Facility Permit must be submitted along with the Event Registration Form.
  • Should your organization wish to serve or sell alcohol on or off campus, the Request to Serve Alcoholic Beverages Form must be submitted along with the Event Registration Form.

For more information on these requirements please refer to the following sections of the handbook:

Duties of Advisors at Events

Student organizations are responsible for the smooth operation of their events. Advisors are not supposed to serve as “police” but should make helpful suggestions regarding neglected areas and unwise practices. It is particularly important that advisors be available and prepared to assist in any emergency situation which might arise at an open public event. When an advisor signs, or permits a designee to sign any required forms for events, he/she is indicating acceptance for sponsorship of the event and a willingness to be reasonably informed on the activities planned. Advisors are encouraged to be present during the entire time for which the event is scheduled.

Organization’s Responsibilities to the Advisor

The organization is expected to have the following responsibilities:

  • To keep the advisor informed concerning the overall program of the organization
  • To notify the advisor well in advance of the schedule of meetings and events
  • To give the advisor an opportunity to express an opinion on issues

The Power of Recognition

Recognition is an on-going activity through which people express their appreciation for each other’s value and contributions.  As an advisor, you may choose to recognize student organization officers for a job well done.

Types of Recognition:

  • Acknowledgement – written or verbal expression of appreciation
  • Seeking Input – seeking information, suggestions & opinions
  • Sharing Information – imparting information relevant to the organization
  • Expanding Participation – assigning special projects or duties
  • Taking Personal Interest – conveying interest in others as people
  • Reward – tangible expression of appreciation

Delivery Guidelines:

  • Sincere
  • Personalized
  • Accurate
  • Timely
  • Specific
  • Appropriate

Putting Recognition into Action

Step 1:  Increasing Recognition Awareness:

  • Develop a systematic approach to increase awareness of recognition opportunities.
  • Keep recognition and reward reminders on your calendar.
  • Ask yourself:  “Are there any projects nearing completion?
  • Recognize accomplishments of at least one person or team at each meeting.
  • Remind yourself who the consistently excellent student performers are and make the effort to recognize them.
  • Ask the members for recommendations of who deserves recognition.

Step 2:  Selecting What and Who to Recognize:

  • Decide which events are worthy of recognition as a base point for determining who to recognize.
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Successful project/program completion
  • Consistent steady performance
  • Significant improvements
  • Outstanding efforts

Step 3:   Choosing Methods of Recognition:

  • Understand the need to be sensitive to individual differences when deciding the method to be used.
  • Public vs. private
  • Formal vs. informal
  • Tangible vs. intangible

Helpful Questions for Student Organization Advisors

There are many varied aspects connected with assuming the role of an advisor for any student organization. It is with this thought in mind that these questions have been prepared.

  • Have I thought of my responsibilities as the advisor of a student organization?
  • Do I know the purpose of the organization?
  • Do I know how to find the Constitution?
  • Have I read the organization’s Constitution?
  • Have I discussed my role as advisor with the organization’s leadership?
  • Have I attended advisor meetings and training sessions sponsored by the Center for Student Involvement?
  • Do I personally know the members of the organization and do they know me?
  • Do I meet with the organization leaders on a regular basis?
  • Are the organization’s projects evaluated yearly for their value to the organization and to others?
  • Have I discussed individually and collectively with the officers their objectives and goals for the organization?
  • Do I have many informal contacts with the students of the organization?
  • Do the majority of members in the organization participate on committees, at meetings, or on projects?
  • Is group participation distributed broadly or limited?
  • Are meetings and activities announced effectively?
  • How much do I involve myself with the organization’s programs and projects?
  • Do I maintain effective communication with the members and officers of the organization?

Need More Resources? 

Committed to the success of you and your organization, the Center staff can help address your questions and provide you with the information needed to serve as an advisor through the following resources:

Student Organization Advisor Forums

Each semester the Center for Student Involvement sponsors an Advisor Open Forum to update you on policies, procedures, and upcoming events for student organizations.  It is also a great opportunity to network with fellow advisors.  For information on when the next forum will take place, contact CSI at 323-343-5110. For advisors who cannot make these trainings, rest assured you will receive all materials covered and distributed.

Updates and Emails

To keep everyone on the same page, CSI sends copies of updates and newsletters distributed to student organization presidents to advisors as well.  Ideally, the information should reach the student organization through both parties.

A weekly CSI newsletter is sent out via email.  This publication updates organizations on the events, activities, and programs taking place on campus put on by the University-Student Union and student organizations.  Important and timely updates as well as campus-wide announcements are also made through the newsletter.

Leadership Programs

Why reinvent the wheel?  The Center coordinates a variety of leadership programs and workshops designed to provide student leaders with the resources and skills they need to effectively manage their organizations!  Referring your student leaders to these programs saves you time and helps ensure their development!  For more information on these resources refer to the U-SU calendar of events.   

Contact Us!

Should you have any questions regarding the resources and requirements covered here and in the Student Organization Handbook, please feel free to contact the Center for Student Involvement at (323) 343-5110.