STUDENT ORGANIZATION
ADVISOR MANUAL

Student Organization Advisor Manual

Updated June 23, 2022

Welcome Letter

Thank you for becoming an advisor to a student organization here at VCU!

Whether you are a new advisor or have been helping an organization for years, we look forward to working with you. We have put together this manual to help guide your process as an advisor and to serve as a resource on student organizations here at VCU.

Advisors are an important member of a student organization. You can help facilitate the co-curricular experience for students and enhance their time as a student here at VCU. While it does take time to be an advisor, we hope that it is a meaningful and rewarding experience for you! The Underground: Student Organization Resources Center offers a wide variety of resources and services to aid in the development of student organizations and student leaders, but we are also here to support advisors. I

If you have any questions regarding this manual, advising, or student organizations at VCU please do not hesitate to contact The Underground: Student Organization Resources Center. We are located in the University Student Commons, Room 015, and can be reached at 804-828-3648 or studentorgs@vcu.edu.

Table of Contents

  • Staff DirectoryCampus Security Authority
    The Handbook for Student Organizations at Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Campus Security Authority
  • The Handbook for Student Organizations at Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Advising a Student Organization
  • Registration of Student Organizations
  • Policies and Procedures
  • Signature Programs
  • Event Services
  • Publicity and Communication
  • Finance
  • Organizational Development and Leadership

Campus Security Authority

Dear Student Organization Advisors:

On behalf of the university’s Associate Vice President for Public Safety and the Integrity and Compliance Office, please consider this your official notice that you have been identified as a Campus Security Authority (CSA) based on your role as a Student Organization Advisor ( see CSA definition at 34 C.F.R. § 668.46(a)).

Generally, CSAs are individuals who have significant responsibility for student and campus activities. CSAs serve an important role in complying with the Clery Act, which was enacted to help create a safer university community. Timely reporting of crimes by CSAs allows the university the opportunity to review whether or not a campus community timely warning/crime alert should be issued and assists the university in maintaining accurate Clery-reportable crime data.

As a CSA, you are required to:

Immediately report all crimes to the VCU Police Department once they are reported to you [crimes may occur on or off campus, but on VCU-affiliated property, or on public property (property owned by a public entity, including on-campus property and property that immediately borders and is accessible from the campus)]. When in doubt, please err on the side of over-reporting. To report a crime, please contact the VCU Police Department at (804) 828-1234 (emergency) or (804) 828-1196 (non-emergency) for guidance.

Complete mandatory, annual CSA training – The annual training notification is disseminated to all identified CSAs in mid-October each calendar year, following the publication of the university’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report (ASR) in the fall semester. Please be on the lookout for an email notification regarding the VCU’s annual CSA training release in October.

Thank you for all that you do to contribute to VCU’s safety efforts!

The Handbook for Student Organizations at Virginia Commonwealth University

The purpose of the Handbook for Student Organizations at Virginia Commonwealth University is to describe the program for student organizations at VCU, including applicable policies and procedures.

University Student Commons and Activities (The Commons) establishes policies and procedures for all student organizations. Certain student organizations, such as sports clubs, the Student Government Association, fraternities and sororities, are subject to the additional policies or procedures established by another unit or department of the university that has a relationship with the organization. Such additional policies and procedures are set forth in writing by the unit or department. Links are included at the end of this document.

Noncompliance with this Handbook or applicable university policy may result in disciplinary action under the Student Code of Conduct against a student organization up to and including permanent loss of recognition as a student organization at VCU and against an individual student, up to and including dismissal. Moreover, the Commons may take administrative action against a student organization and its officers or members as set forth in this Handbook.

VCU supports an environment free from retaliation. Retaliation against any student or employee who brings forth a good-faith concern, asks a clarifying question, or participates in an investigation is prohibited. All applicable dates referenced in this handbook will be available on RamsConnect.

Adam’s Law

In 2022, the Commonwealth of Virginia passed Adam's Law, which will ensure education and reporting related to hazing for select student organizations throughout Virginia.

If your organization does fit the criteria outlined in Adam's Law, you will be contacted by university administrators to ensure you are in compliance with all measures of the law.

For more information on Adam's Law, please visit Virginia's Legislative Information Systems.

Advising a Student Organization

Introduction to Advising

Advising a student organization is a great way to interact with students outside of the classroom. It is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our students and in the community.

Through advising you can help students develop new skills and interest, become a leader, and enhance their co-curricular experience. Not only will you be able to share your personal experiences, but you will be able to watch them grow through their own involvement. Being a student organization advisor can be extremely rewarding both personally and professionally.

Student organizations can benefit greatly from having a permanent advisor. Organizations have regular turnover and oftentimes the advisor is the only constant from year to year. Your role will be to help the organization move forward with new officers instead of them taking two steps back. An advisor is also there to help the organization through challenges, whether it is with understanding policies, membership retention, or organizational conflict. Advisors are also there to provide support and encouragement, to help with goal setting, and to provide feedback to help the organization succeed.

Advising Styles

Every advisor uses a different approach to working with a student organization. Some advisors attend meetings and events and have regular meetings with the organization leadership. Other advisors have a more distant relationship with the organization. Below are some of the possible roles you may take on as an advisor. You may use one style of advising or a combination depending on the situation or based on group dynamics and leadership.

Educator

As an advisor, you will spend time teaching and coaching the student organization to help them achieve their goals. Whether it be educating the students about how to recruit new members or walking them through a challenging moment, you will be providing them with valuable information to succeed as an organization. In this role, you will also be providing the organization with support and guidance in running meetings, managing a budget, and planning events. While you may have an immense amount of knowledge in certain areas, it is important to remember to empower the students to take action instead of doing it for them. One of the biggest challenges as an educator is being ok with letting the students fail. While not stepping in to fix something may not seem natural, it sometimes provides the biggest learning outcome when you take the time to help them reflect on what could have been done differently and how they will make a change in the future.

Mediator

Student organizations are bound to run into some form of conflict between members. An advisor can serve as an impartial mediator in these situations to help the students talk through the issue and hopefully come to a resolution. During these conversations, it is important to remind the students that they should be focusing on what is in the best interest for their organization. They should talk through how they can work together to achieve their goals and the purpose of the organization. If one student appears to be causing problems for other students and the organization, it would be best to have a private conversation with the student to see what is wrong and how the issue can be resolved.

Mentor

Relationships between advisors and students can turn into a mentor/mentee relationship as you work together through the student organization. The role of a mentor is most common when the students are seeking to enter the field that the advisor works in or if they share a mutual passion for a specific topic. Students may ask their advisor for help outside of the student organization. This may be in the form of asking for help with their resume, connecting to a professional network and other resources, or help seeking out internships and jobs after graduation.

Team Builder

Most student organizations have new officers each year and members that come and go. It is important that they are constantly working on creating a team environment. As an advisor, you can help encourage and build this environment. This can be done through helping plan a yearly retreat where they set goals and expectations for the organization. It is also important that they continue the team building process throughout the year. If the organization hits a bump in the road, suggest that they add a team building activity to their meeting time or have them plan a group outing so they can spend time together.

Motivator

There are going to be times when the organization is struggling to stay positive and not get discouraged with difficulties as a group. It is helpful for you to step in at these times of challenge and encourage them. When things are going well, recognize their individual and group efforts and achievements to keep them motivated.

Policy Interpreter

Student organization members and leaders may not always be aware of the policies and procedures for student organizations. As the advisor, the more you know about these policies and procedures, the more you can help the organization be sure they are following them. While you may not know them all by memory, if something does not sound right you can reference the Student Organization Manual or contact a member of the Student Leadership and Involvement staff.

Questions to Ask the Organization

Advisors should initiate a meeting with the student organization officers to discuss your role and to set expectations. Below are some questions that can be used to start the conversation. There is also a separate document titled “Student Organization/Advisor Expectation Checklist” that can be used as a guide to facilitate this meeting.

● What is the organization looking for in an advisor?
● How often/when does the group meet? Am I expected to attend meetings?
● What type of events does the organization host and how often?
● What are some of the biggest challenges you have as a student organization?
● Do you want me to be an active participant in meetings or an observer?
● Do you want me to step in when there is conflict within the organization● Are there certain areas the organization needs assistance with (e.g. finance membership, recruitment, officer transition, publicity, etc.)?

Time Commitment

The time commitment of being an advisor to a student organization can vary depending on your level of involvement and the needs of the organization. It can range from mostly email communication to attending every meeting and event. Your time commitment is something that should be discussed with the student organization officers at the beginning of each year.

Tips

Regardless of your advising style, here are some tips when working with student organizations.

● Learn organization member’s names and get to know them
● Understand student organization and University policies
● Establish clear expectations about your role as the advisor
● Read the monthly emails sent out through the Student Leadership and Involvement Center
● Communicate with members even if you are not at meetings
● Find the right balance of involvement with the organization for you
● Develop relationships with the organization officers and establish meeting times as needed
● Set up a meeting with a staff member in the Student Leadership and Involvement Center
● It is ok to say no!
● It is ok to let the organization fail

Registration of Student Organizations

Student Organization Re-Registration

We are committed to supporting student organizations with a smooth transition from year to year. The Underground Student Organization Resource Center is available for virtual or in-person meetings to help walk through the steps of maintaining active status, including re-registration through RamsConnect. Annual re-registration should be submitted by the incoming President. Annual re-registration typically starts in May.

Benefits of Being a Student Organization

Student organizations must register with The Underground: Student Organization Resources Center and The Hub: Student Organization Resources Center to take advantage of the benefits we provide. The following are resources available to your organization:

● 150 black and white copies per month
● Computer stations with printers
● Organization mailboxes
● Banner paper, paint, and art supplies
● Helium tank, button maker, and other PR materials
● Registration and webpage on RamsConnect
● Opportunity to apply for SGA funding for conference travel, events, and programs
● Room reservations on campus
● Monthly Newsletter
● Invitation to the Leadership and Service Awards Ceremony

RamsConnect

Each registered student organization has a page on RamsConnect that can be used for communication, posting events and photos, submitting finance paperwork, and much more! As a VCU faculty/staff member, you have the ability to create an account and join your organization’s page.

To create an account and log in, go to: https://vcu.campusgroups.com/

You will need to use your VCU eID and password to create an account. Once you’re logged in, you can search for your student organization’s page and then click the “Join Organization” button to request to be added to the roster. The President is the only individual with the ability to manage the roster, so you’ll want to let them know that you have a request pending.

It is important that the President keeps a current and accurate roster on RamsConnect. The Underground: Student Organization Resources Center uses the roster information to communicate with officers and student organizations. If the roster is not accurate, officers will not receive any emails regarding upcoming deadlines, events, training, and opportunities.

Policies and Procedures

Membership

The majority of the membership of an organization must be currently enrolled students at VCU. A minimum of eight (8) currently enrolled VCU students are required to form and maintain an organization.

Non-students may hold membership in an organization as an associate member. However, they may not serve as an officer nor may they conduct official business on behalf of the organization.

Officer Positions and Grade Requirements

Each organization is required to have a President, Vice President, and Treasurer and they must maintain certain academic requirements in order to hold an office. Undergraduate students must be enrolled and registered for a minimum of six (6) credit hours and graduate students must be enrolled and registered for a minimum of three (3) credit hours. Officers must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.50 for undergraduates officers must be in good standing with their academic department for graduate students*.

*The Underground: Student Organization Resources Center will mirror GPA requirements of certain graduate and professional programs. This will be handled on a case by case basis between The Underground: Student Organization Resources Center and the department of the student leader.

Part of being an organization officer is to stay up to date with information from The Underground: Student Organization Resources Center such as annual registration and Student Organization Orientation. They are also expected to keep their RamsConnect page accurate with officer information and their membership roster.

Hazing

Hazing is prohibited by law in the Commonwealth of Virginia and by Virginia Commonwealth University. Hazing is an activity which is physically or mentally abusive, potentially dangerous, humiliating or demeaning, or which interferes with academic achievement and the human rights of the individual.

Branding and Tattooing: The University prohibits branding and tattooing in University facilities and on University grounds. The University does not encourage the practices of branding and tattooing.

Discrimination

Virginia Commonwealth University will maintain a strong commitment to outstanding achievement, educational excellence and high principle. Activities of the university are designed to promote the continuing policy of providing equal opportunity for employment and education and access to all programs and services without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, political affiliation, veterans’ status, sexual orientation or disability. Notwithstanding these provisions, a religious or political student organization may determine that ordering the organization's internal affairs, selecting the organization's leader and members, defining the organization's doctrines, and resolving the organizations disputes are in furtherance of the organization's religious or political mission and that only persons committed to that mission should conduct such activities. If such a determination is reached, the organization may limit the selection of members or customary rights and privileges of membership in the organization. Such determination shall be certified in the registration form.

Logo and Name

A student organization may not use the University's name or an abbreviation of the University's name, in the name of the student organization in such a manner to suggest the organization is sponsored by the University. Student organizations may use ""of VCU"" or ""at VCU"" following the name of the student organization, so that the location of the organization is reflected in the name.

VCU Cooking Club is NOT allowed Cooking Club at VCU is CORRECT

Please remind your student organization members of this policy, especially when they are creating marketing for an event. This policy also applies to all social media pages.

Trademarks and Licensing

Student organizations are permitted to use the VCU logo and other trademarked items, but it must be done properly. To ensure the organization is within the guidelines, anything bearing VCU’s key trademarks will need to be purchased from a licensed vendor.

Key VCU trademarks include:

● Virginia Commonwealth University®
● VCU®
● VCU Rams ™
● Rams ™
● Medical College of Virginia ™
● MCV ™
● VCU Health System ™
● Havoc ™

To confirm which vendors are licensed to produce any of VCU’s key trademarks, here is the link to view all current licensed vendors:

http://www.identity.vcu.edu/

For additional questions or concerns, please email identity@vcu.edu or call (804) 828-1463.

Signature Programs

The Commons sponsors several signature programs throughout the year to highlight student organizations and recognize student leaders. Below are some of the signature programs that are held for student organizations and student leaders:

Student Organizations & Volunteer Opportunities Fair (SOVO Fair): The SOVO Fair is our huge bi-annual event at VCU where students can connect with the more than 500 student organizations at VCU. Join us on the first Friday of each semester to engage with student organizations throughout the school year. This exciting Weeks of Welcome event that promotes student engagement at VCU and in the Richmond community. Student organizations, campus partners, and community organizations host tables at the SOVO Fair so students can learn more about getting involved. Your student organization will have the opportunity to register for a table to participate in RamsConnect. For more information, please visit the SOVO Fair page here.

Leaders Unleashed: VCU Student Leadership Conference: Leaders Unleashed is a gateway experience that is held annually to guide students to find their life-changing experiences, their best friend or mentor, and shaping their role as a leader at VCU, in their community, and beyond. This conference is open to all VCU students who are interested in growing as a leader. Students with no current leadership role are encouraged to attend. All current student leaders are also invited and welcome. For more information, please visit the Leaders Unleashed page here.

Student Leadership Awards: VCU fully embraces the leadership and service of its students undergraduate, graduate, and professional. As such, VCU established the Student Leadership Awards to recognize students for their contributions to student organizations, community service, and co-curricular excellence. Each year we invite students, staff, and faculty to nominate individuals and organizations that have made impacts and great strides in continuing to make VCU a great place to live, learn and grow. You will have an opportunity to nominate a deserving student for any of the individual awards, or nominate your student organization for one of several registered student organization awards. For more information, please visit the Student Leadership Awards page here.

Event Services

Planning Your Event

The Event Services office is available to help your organization reserve space in the Student Commons, Larrick Student Center, and Hunton Student Center for meetings and events. They are also available to assist with vendor recommendations, audio/visual support, parking needs, as well as tips and advice on how to successfully plan and execute events. They can be reached at 804-828-9502 or at uscaevent@vcu.edu. They are located in Room 229 of the University Student Commons.

Policies to Remember

1. Meetings and/or events not canceled at all and the host organization or does not show up for the scheduled meeting and/or event may be issued a warning.

2. Registered student organizations cannot use Student Government Association funding to pay for any fees associated with excessive cleaning or room reset fees.

3. According to the VCU SGA Appropriations bylaws, SGA funding cannot be used to cover “any fee, deemed to be the fault of a student organization that results from failure to pay an invoice in a timely manner or an additional charge imposed for failing to meet a payment deadline.”

4. AV tech fees are to be paid by the student organization, and can be paid through SGA funding when requested in enough time. AV tech rates are $45 for the first 3 hours and $12 per each additional hour. Techs are scheduled a minimum one hour before event start and one hour after event start.

Reserving a Room

To reserve a room, go to https://www.pubapps.vcu.edu/campusems/. Your organization can also reserve information tables, and banner spaces.

Reservation requests for publicity and information tables/standard* meeting spaces must be made through Virtual EMS at least 3 business days prior to the requested date.

Reservations for non-standard* meeting and event space must be made through Virtual EMS at least 10 days prior to the requested date. A “major event” request must be submitted through Virtual EMS at least 90 calendar days in advance. See below for what constitutes a major event.

*Standard vs. non-standard meeting space:
● Standard space: already equipped with furniture (i.e. Shockoe, Metro, Forum Room)
● Non-standard meeting space: a clear room; furniture needs to be added (i.e. Commonwealth Ballroom, Richmond Salons, Virginia Rooms)

Major Events

If your event includes and of the following, it is a major event and must follow the Reservation and Use of Space Policy:

● Attendance (expected or historical) of more than 100 people
● Tickets (paid or free)
● Contracted Services (catering, speakers, DJ’s, etc.)
● Police and/or Security Required
● Audio Visual Support (DJ, band, multiple mics, speakers, etc.)
● Alcohol is Served
● Event is a: Social, Festival, Carnival, Dance, Fashion Show, Pageant, Auction, Open Mic, Concert, or Culture Show Event Services Resources

Please reference the USC&A Event Services Guidelines for more information. All events must follow the Reservation and Use of Space Policy. If you have any questions regarding space reservations or set-up, contact the Event Services office in Room 229 of the University Student Commons or send an email to uscaevent@vcu.edu.

Publicity and Communication

Publicity Resources

There are many ways student organizations can promote events. Below are a few recommendations of how to publicize:

RamsConnect Events: Create an event page and upload a flyer to the virtual bulletin
TelegRAM: Email announcement to Faculty, Staff and Students. Submit email announcement to: www.vcu.edu/telegRAM/.
University Calendar: Place your program on the online University Calendar by submitting a request at: http://www.pubinfo.vcu.edu/calendar/
Axis-TV: Create a PowerPoint slide and email in JPG form to contactusca@vcu.edu
Banners: You must make a reservation through EMS to have it hung. This can be done on Virtual EMS at https://www.pubapps.vcu.edu/campusems/.  All banners must be 8’ x 3’.   Inside banners: may be paper or vinyl. Outside banners: MUST be vinyl with grommets in each corner. MUST be vinyl with grommets in each corner
Facebook: Create events and use announcements to post to newsgroups

Finance Introduction

USC&A Finance is the one stop shop for all of your student organization's financial needs. The Finance staff members are available to provide students assistance in the areas of funding requests, purchase requests, reimbursements, budget reallocations, travel, and more.

SGA Independent Financial Board (VCU SGA Appropriations)

The mission of the Virginia Commonwealth University Student Government Association (VCU SGA) Appropriations Committee is to disburse the student activity fee in a fair and consistent manner to eligible student organizations. These student organizations should enhance the quality of the student experience at VCU.

The Appropriations Committee will consider funding requests from only student organizations that are registered with the University Student Commons and Activities (USC&A).

Any registered Student Organization that receives funding must re-register each year for the following academic year with the University. Failure to re-register forfeits the allocation and the Student Organization may not be eligible to request funding again until registration has been current for thirty (30) days.

If a student organization has or will receive funding from the Student Activity Fee via a different outlet, e.g. social fraternities and sororities, rec sports clubs, and graduate student groups applying via the Graduate Student Association, then that organization must indicate those funds on their request to the VCU SGAAppropriations Committee. The VCU SGA Appropriations Committee reserves the right to deny or approve funds based on these disclosures or when an organization failure to disclose.

For more information on the SGA Independent Financial Board, you can view the bylaws here.

Bank Accounts

Student organizations may open an account with an off-campus bank or credit union. It is strongly recommended that all off-campus bank or credit union be established with two signatures for the withdrawal of funds from the account.

Any funding received from the Virginia Commonwealth University Student Government Association (VCU SGA) must stay in the on-campus account managed through RamsConnect. This account can only be accessed by the President and Treasurer of each organization once they have completed the finance training process.

Member Dues

Student organizations are allowed to collect membership dues. The money collected through dues should be held in an off-campus bank account created for the student organization.

Organizational Development and Leadership

Constitution and Bylaws

A group’s constitution and bylaws are important documents that govern its purpose and future actions. Be sure to anticipate the future to ensure that your constitution does not limit the organization’s options for growth and change.

The constitution of an organization contains the fundamental operating principles that govern its operation. The bylaws establish specific rules of guidance by which the group is to function. All registered student organizations should have their basic structure and methods of operation in writing. The constitution is the essence of the overall purpose of the organization and is not changed unless the purpose changes. Bylaws set forth in detail the procedures a group must follow to conduct business in an orderly manner. They provide further definitions to the articles of the constitution and can be changed more easily as the needs of the organization change.

Officer Transition

The officer transition process is a key step to a successful upcoming year. Taking time to have an officer transition meeting or retreat allows the outgoing officers to share information and knowledge with the incoming officers. Some of the important things to do during this time is to share job descriptions, organization constitution, policies, and other important documents. The new officers should also create a calendar with meetings and events for the upcoming year.

Developmental Opportunities

The Underground: Student Organization Resources Center and The Hub: Student Organization Resources Center provides regular opportunities to enhance the leadership skills of all student organization members. Please read the monthly email for upcoming sessions and conferences. The information will also be listed on The Underground: Student Organization Resources Center and/or The Commons RamsConnect pages.