Renew, refocus and re-energize your advisory group this fall

Fall is a great time to re-focus a group. Consider these five tips to make this most of this time of year!

While the New Year is still a few months away, for many people and organizations the fall season marks a similar opportunity to “renew.” A new school year is starting, summer vacations have ended, and people begin to assume a “get back to business” attitude in their daily lives. As a result, fall is also wonderful time to renew focus in volunteer-driven organizations.

Michigan 4-H Youth Development utilizes many volunteer-driven advisory groups to provide leadership and direction for local 4-H programs. Many of these advisory groups conduct elections for officers and bring on new members in the fall. If you’re working with an advisory group, use the five strategies below to re-focus, re-energize and prioritize advisory group work for the year during this season of renewal.

  1. Review group purpose and bylaws. All advisory groups should have bylaws that formalize their group processes. Over time however, it can be easy for groups to begin to follow established group norms that may not align with bylaws. A best practice is to review the bylaws annually in order to review the contents and propose changes, if needed. Also contained within the bylaws should be a group purpose statement: an annual review of this statement can also be incredibly beneficial for all members as it helps to re-focus group goals. If your group needs to make major revisions to your bylaws or has yet to write bylaws, Michigan 4-H provides many online resources that can help.
  2. Evaluate the group make-up and recruit members to fill gaps. One area of the organizational bylaws that is occasionally neglected is term limits, as people sometimes feel “no one else is interested.” It’s important to challenge advisory group members to constantly be thinking about recruitment. As groups consider potential new members, or even work to recruit their own replacement when their term is up, it is also important to consider the segments of the organization that might be under-represented in the advisory group’s membership. In 4-H programs in particular, a significant youth presence on advisory groups is important, as youth are the intended audience for 4-H programs. In addition, Michigan State University Extension has a commitment to serve all segments of the population, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity and other protected statuses. If your advisory group is composed of entirely white, non-Hispanic women, think of people that could be asked to serve on the group that represent other groups within the community. Advisory group membership should be representative of potential program audiences: this assures that our program direction and leadership is reflective of those we are attempting to serve.
  3. Provide an orientation. Fall is great time of year to conduct an orientation for new and returning group members. Orientations aren’t just for new members as they provide a great refresher course for everyone serving on the group. Making an orientation part of regular meeting agenda provides an opportunity for everyone to review the group’s purpose, annual goals, standing committees, job descriptions and ground rules or group norms together. Engage seasoned group members to lead the orientation as a way of building their investment in the organization.
  4. Hold team building activities and icebreakers. With new members comes a need to re-build a sense of team with your group. Even without new members, taking time to get to know fellow members on a personal level builds trust and opens lines of communication. There are countless examples of group icebreaker and team building activities that encourage people to step outside of their comfort zone. Refer to this series of articles on icebreaker ideas to find one that will work for your group.
  5. Consider a retreat. Dedicating one or two days to a group retreat allows for focused discussion and visioning that can be difficult to achieve in the standard 1.5 hour meeting time. While retreats require a commitment from members to take time away from their busy schedules, they can provide a more relaxed, focused environment in order to accomplish important group goals. This can be a good time to step back from the day-to-day operations of our 4-H programs and really look at the big picture. Michigan 4-H is hosting an advisory group retreat for 4-H councils, boards, and committees at the Kettunen Center on November 21-23. We will cover many of the topics mentioned above – think about joining us!

In addition to these helpful tips, MSU Extension has many resources available on our website to guide 4-H and other advisory groups in their work. For individualized assistance, contact the Leadership and Civic Engagement work group at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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