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Ten Tips for an Effective Advisory Council

Ten Tips for an Effective Advisory Council

Michael J. Worth is the author of Advisory Councils in Higher Education.

Advisory councils are increasingly common in colleges and universities and add great value. They offer advice, serve as advocates for the institution, assist with fundraising, and provide other important services. Some councils serve entire institutions, while others are focused on specific academic units. The following practices are recommended to presidents and deans, to help their councils be most effective.

  1. Define and communicate a clear purpose for the advisory council. The president or dean should know what he or she wants from the advisory council. The purposes should be put in writing and communicated to members of the council.
  2. Keep membership standards high. This requires that presidents, deans, and council members be deliberate and thoughtful about who is selected to serve.
  3. Establish and communicate a clear structure. Not every council needs formal bylaws, but total informality has downsides. A clear statement of policies about size, frequency of meetings, expectations of members, and terms of service help avoid misunderstandings and keep the council focused on its mission.
  4. Select members to serve the purposes of the council. The council’s membership should be crafted once its purposes have been clarified. The backgrounds and skills of members should be related to those purposes.
  5. Involve the council in substance and assign specific work. Few council members are likely to enjoy or continue serving as an audience for hours of presentations, so identify real issues and important questions for the council to consider and allow time for open and forthright discussion.
  6. Set clear expectations for giving and fundraising. Most advisory councils have some policy for giving by their members and there are various approaches to this subject. Council members will appreciate clarity on this point, when they are enlisted and throughout their service.
  7. Build relationships and engage council members between meetings. Involving council members in the ongoing life of the institution helps build a group of individuals committed to its purposes.
  8. If the council offers advice, consider it and provide feedback on what, if any, actions have been taken. If the council’s advice is not taken, provide an explanation.
  9. Commit sufficient budget and support. Managing an advisory council requires time and consistent attention. That requires assigning a staff member, at least part time, to support the council and its activities.
  10. Take the council seriously. Prepare for council meetings carefully and treat its members as important leaders. To do otherwise is to disrespect the commitment council members have made and to forgo the opportunities that their involvement and support can provide—to the institution itself and to the president or dean with whom they serve.
Explore policies and best practices for structuring an advisory council, defining its role, managing its work, and maximizing its benefits to the institution at our complimentary webinar on June 7, 1:30 pm ET.
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