Understanding the roles and responsibilities of advisory councils

Abstract: 

An advisory council is an important component of Senior Corps programs. The concept of an impartial, objective group — separate from the sponsor and project director — giving input to the operation of Senior Corps programs has been integral to Foster Grandparents, RSVP, and Senior Companion programs. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of advisory council members can help program directors, volunteers, and council members perform more efficiently.

Issue:

Program directors, volunteers, and council members don't always clearly understand the roles and responsibilities of the advisory council.

Action:

Policy for Senior Corps programs is based on legislation defined in regulations published in the Federal Register and expanded in individual program handbooks, and an advisory council must adhere to them. An advisory council has the responsibility to plan, make decisions, and act according to its role as advisor to and supporter of its respective Senior Corps programs. According to Campaign Consultation, Inc. (a training and technical assistance provider for CNCS), effective practices for advisory councils include:

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Short- and long-term planning both for its own development and that of the program
  • Annual review of its own work and performance
  • Familarity with the Senior Corps program they serve
  • Visit one volunteer site annually
  • With input by the project director, conduct an annual program evaluation that is submitted to CNCS
  • Knowledgeable about the project's place in the community, trends in society affecting the field of service, and focus on long-range issues and solutions
  • A clearly defined relationship with the sponsor's board of directors, and regular communication with the board
  • Include a reasonable number of members who provide or solicit financial support for the program
  • Attract new members to the council

Operation of the Council

  • A set of expectations and job descriptions 
  • Operates under a clear and up-to-date set of bylaws with which all members are familiar 
  • Members are elected for specific terms and are limited as to how many consecutive terms they can serve
  • The council communicates effectively with the project director
  • Members build relationships and work together as a team to accomplish goals
  • Members conduct reflects leadership effectiveness (e.g., attendance, participation)
  • The council decision-making process is clear and widely known at the committee and council levels
  • Advance council goals with a number of standing committees that report back to the council
  • Each member of the council is active and serves on at least one standing committee
  • Council meetings occur at least quarterly
  • Meeting agendas are effectively designed, and members receive them with related background materials in a timely manner in advance of council meetings
  • Financial and standing committee reports are given regularly
  • The council follows through and completes "old" business

Duties of the Chairperson

Every organization will differ in assigning specific responsibilities to those who chair committees, but universal functions include:

  • Recruits committee members and ensures newcomers are oriented
  • Organizes and conducts committee meetings, including the following:
    • Determine the agenda: Select the most important things to discuss, make sure they can be handled in the time available, and sequence issues logically
    • Watch the clock: Start on time, move through the agenda efficiently and without rushing, leave time to review decisions made and tasks assigned, end on time
    • Facilitate the discussion: Ensure everyone has a chance to speak, limit those who tend to monopolize discussions, maintain an open and welcoming tone, monitor disagreements — chairperson should act as a good listener, restate important points, synthesize different comments, clarify differences of opinion
    • Ensure that decisions are reached: Sense when enough discussion has occurred, call for a vote
    • Recognize the contribution of members: Thank members for reports and efforts, acknowledge special accomplishments
  • Contacts absentee members to foster participation and keeps informed on their progress on assigned tasks
  • Represents the committee to the sponsoring agency by reporting the work of members to the larger organization, and in turn, keeps the committee informed about the organization's decisions, resources, and activities

Outcome:

Campaign Consultation, Inc., reports that when all involved understand the roles and responsibilities of advisory council members, operations and functions of the council are improved, including the following: 

Administrative Tasks

  • Selecting/evaluating a project director
  • Assisting with personnel problems
  • Writing of renewal application
  • Acting as a "court of appeals" for volunteers
  • Instituting effective changes in project policies

Programmatic Concerns

  • Developing new volunteer stations/assignments
  • Recruiting
  • Recognizing volunteers
  • Planning and evaluating project impacts and outcomes
  • Developing resources

Community Relationships

  • Interpreting program to community, serving as spokesperson for the project
  • Bringing community feedback to the project
  • Developing publicity for the project
  • Helping assess community needs
  • Developing resources

Financial Issues

  • Serving as fiduciary representative of the project
  • Ensuring the financial solvency of the project
  • Giving personally and fundraising for the project

For more information:

Related Resources: 

Building an Effective Advisory Committee

Citations: 

Campaign Consultation, Inc. (n.d.). Advisory council member self-assessment


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