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The Single Most Important Step for Chapter Vitality

Sigma Xi fosters research excellence in many ways, not least through local chapters. Astute readers, members or not, may recognize ideas presented here that are transferable and operational in their Sigma Xi chapters or any other organization working for the greater good.

The single most important step for Sigma Xi chapter vitality is the appointment of a functioning President's Advisory Council.

The President's Advisory Council is just that, a council of variously experienced members that offers advice to the president—and the other officers—on the myriad of topics of importance to a healthy chapter. More than the group of officers, or even a "cabinet" that implies officers and appointed committee chairs, the President's Advisory Council has, explicitly, "advisors."

The president appoints (with advance consent) any member who expresses interest in any aspect of the chapter. Significantly, the president pledges that the advisor will not be expected or pressured to participate in or supervise any activity or project suggested or endorsed by the advisor. This pledge is vital as the act that convinces the interested member that advice can indeed be given without fear and trepidation that time and attention commitments would necessarily follow. The atmosphere of appreciated contribution without forced participation is the key to obtaining a cadre of thinkers and protagonists for the chapter. Without the pressure to perform, advisors frequently remain on the council for extended periods of many years, which provides continuity and consistency to chapter activities. Recently served presidents and other chapter officers can be recruited to remain as advisors in a relaxed-duty capacity.

Some chapters employing the prototype President's Advisory Council limit the planning meetings for the council to a modest number each year, typically four. Such chapters typically report that attendance and participation are enhanced when a sandwich and cookie or pizza and drinks are provided from the chapter's funds.

Of course, the advisor who champions a particular project over several relaxed planning sessions that show broad support for the idea can frequently be persuaded to continue as the leader of the project or chair of the overseeing committee. Thus, unforced advisors can become chapter project leaders and ultimately form a core of activists from which chapter officers are developed. Perhaps the most important result of the council is that a member with a multi-year tenure as an advisor who has absorbed and advanced the history, philosophy and methods of running a vital chapter will often move naturally into leadership as a chapter officer.

A significant minority of Sigma Xi chapters now operate with locally adapted and named versions of the described President's Advisory Council. Such chapters have vigorous, effective and sustained programs of quality activities. Chapters that operate on the "cabinet" system or that plan activities with only an officer group would do well to seek, recruit and welcome an enhanced group of advisors to ensure the extended health and life of the chapter.

Now that I've described the First Most Important Step, what follows? Look for:

—The Second Most Important Step for chapter vitality is to create, update and execute a Three-Year Plan.

—The Most Fun Step for chapter vitality is to host an Open House.

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