3 Keys to a Successful Advisory Board
An advisory board can be an incredible nonprofit and higher education resource, especially in fundraising.
What is an advisory board? An advisory board is a non-governing body that provides advice and often serves as an ambassador for an officer or an organization. For example, in higher education at a state-sponsored university, a college or dean might have an advisory board.
Some nonprofits have an advisory board or boards for special functions, or as an avenue to secure the leadership and insight of leaders who may be too busy to attend more frequent board meetings. Sometimes former board members are rotated or "graduated" to an advisory board.
Here are three keys to a successful advisory board:
- Be sure that its role is clear. Unlike the board of directors (or trustees), an advisory board has no authority. It serves at the pleasure of the institution or its head. An unclear role can lead to conflict or frustration. Define the role and keep it focused so that it doesn’t expand and create more work than the staff can successfully support. Be sure that the legal and advisory boards communicate regularly and understand their respective roles.
- Be ready and willing to take advice. Even if one of the advisory group’s roles—or focus—is fundraising, you have to be willing to listen to its insight. You have selected the members due to their leadership, ethics, knowledge and more. Often a role of the advisory board is to provide program advice in areas of its expertise. People invest where they are invested.
- Be sure that you can support the board. If you can not provide a great board experience, do not start a board. This means:
- Meetings scheduled a year in advance.
- Regular updates from the CEO at least every other month.
- Periodic phone calls and a personal visit with the CEO each year.
- The support of any committees.
- Visibility and recognition of the board and other "perks" for membership.
- Formal systems for board development.
There are great benefits to an advisory board. It:
- Provides valuable insight in program areas.
- Adds credence to the organization by the stature of the members serving on the advisory board.
- Enhances fundraising through the board members' own giving and their identification, cultivation and solicitation of other donors.
- Develops high visibility ambassadors for the organization.
- Establishes a means for ongoing involvement of former board members—some of your best friends!
I have served on advisory boards where there was great energy and enthusiasm, and the members freely shared ideas and resources with the institution. I also have served on advisory boards where members became so frustrated with the organization’s leadership that they lost confidence.
If you are considering an advisory board, be sure you can fully support it—and if you can, chances are it will be an incredible asset for your organization and its ability to fulfill its mission.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.