As you know, I’m an advisor, and I while I do run into chapters that don’t have an advisor, I confess to be surprised when I meet BBYO members who don’t know why they should have one, or even have staff at events. It’s not their fault that they feel that way – after all, BBYO does little to explain to members why they should have staff beyond the usual “it’s a policy” argument (which is weak).
So I thought I’d take a few minutes and write about why it’s actually a good thing for a chapter to have staff at events, and why it’s even better to have an advisor.

  • You have someone around to talk to the cops. This one’s especially for AZAs. In our paranoid society, any group of teens, particularly teenage boys, out after dark, is presumed to be dangerous. It’s not fair, but it is what it is. Somehow having adult staff around seems to calm the police down.
  • It helps recruitment and retention. Parents (at least the responsible ones), tend to care about where their teens are and what they are doing. Knowing there is adult supervision can have a huge impact on their willingness to send their teens to events, especially prospectives. Being able to promise parents that events are staffed will absolutely help you with recruitment. Keeping that promise will absolutely help with retention.
  • It’s good backup. Leading a chapter can be hard, especially if you are trying to correct some questionable conduct. Knowing that you have adult backup if necessary can really help your confidence – even if you never use it.

These are things that any parent or staff can do. But there are some things that an advisor can do that are harder or impossible for casual staff:

  • A friend in need. You would not believe the issues that I’ve dealt with as an advisor. Then again maybe you would. Suffice to say that teens sometimes get into situations where they need an adult to talk to and they just can’t face their parents (or maybe the parents are the problem). A good advisor will be there for you and hopefully offer good advice and perspective.
  • Speaking of perspective, an advisor will likely be a moderating influence. No matter what crises you are dealing with, or how intense the drama, the advisor is likely to be just a bit more calm and thinking a bit more clearly. That’s partly because he or she is an adult (and that’s part of being an adult), and it’s partly because we aren’t members. We’re just enough on the outside to be (hopefully) a bit more objective about what’s going on.
  • An ally. Advisors are appointed by regional staff, but our job is to be advocates for the members. That means the advisor should always act in the best interests of the members and the chapter – even if it means helping argue with the regional staff.
  • A teacher. Many advisors have a lot of life experience. They may know more about leadership and programming than you do. Sure you can wait for summer programs to get leadership training, but why wait? In fact (between you and me), some of your region’s advisors may know a lot more about programming and leadership than the people who run summer programs – what a waste not to take advantage of that.

I know that some chapters who don’t have advisors are concerned that it will get in the way of their activities and having fun. And it’s true – there are some activities and types of “fun” that an advisor will interfere with. Some of those are activities that, frankly, you shouldn’t be doing anyway (illegal, immoral). Others are activities that are “inappropriate” – but those are typically subject to negotiation. I’ve yet to meet an advisor who wants to get in the way of the chapter – on the contrary, our goal is to help the chapter and members to succeed.
So, if you’re one of those chapters with an advisor, make sure you’re taking advantage of what they have to offer. And if you don’t have one, or don’t get staff for events, maybe it’s time to reconsider? It’s not just about the rules and policies. It’s about strengthening your chapter and its members.