Attributes of Effective Advisory Board Members
Nonprofits need effective advisory boards. Many of these organizations have limited staff and volunteers, and need the broad expertise that an advisory board can bring to the table. I have worked with many advisory boards and found that one size does not fit all. As a nonprofit executive, you need to understand what an advisory board is and is not, and the purpose of the board. According to Blue Avocado, the board of directors of a nonprofit organization is its legal, governing body. In contrast, an advisory board is convened by the organization to give advice and support.
There are four common types of nonprofit advisory boards: fundraising, in which board members are given the responsibility for generating private revenue; programmatic, in which the board is focused on establishing sound programs and practices; letterhead, in which influential people use their names but nothing else; and fiscally sponsored, in which board members are under the fiscal sponsorship of another organization. Advisory boards need to have guidelines — written descriptions of responsibilities, plus roles and responsibilities clearly determined and outlined.
Authenticity Consulting states that an advisory board consists of many individuals who bring unique knowledge and skills to the organizations they serve. Instead of direct governance, the board provides recommendations and information to enhance operations. Most advisory boards are organized in the same manner as governing boards. They have chairs, committees and many policies like those of a governing board. They also have by-laws that determine the board's purpose, structure and policies.
Boardable advises that an advisory board purpose is to help the nonprofit organization. Members of this board are formed to provide specialized information, experience and skills so the organization can achieve things it otherwise could not. The responsibilities of an advisory board are purely support in nature.
An advisory board needs to have influential community members, individuals with organizational history and knowledge, plus subject matter experts who can use their expertise to better promote the organization. Boards of this nature must have guidelines and a charter. They should also have term limits and an established recruitment procedure. The advisory board’s performance should be annually assessed. Communication tools should be created and used by the board for maximum performance.
With respect to recruiting the right advisory board members, GuideStar notes that board recruitment of the right board members should be among the most critical issues for any nonprofit. The strength of an organization depends upon the board leadership. Quality board members can bring more money and awareness to the organization.
To recruit board members well, build a board matrix to determine the strengths of the current board. Organize current and potential board members by category of greatest areas of need. Conduct sphere of influence conversations, get to know your prospects, define and create roles and responsibilities, research, and make the ask to the right volunteer that can bring the most time, talent and treasure to the organization.
GuideStar also emphasized the need for effective nonprofit board orientation. A committee of the advisory board needs to create an orientation process that addresses the needs of the board. Methods for boards to employ include utilization of a board orientation book, orientation event, establishing a mentoring system, hosting an annual day in the office to see organization operations at work and participation in a board retreat. The purpose of the orientation is to expose the board members in a comprehensive fashion to the organization they are serving. The greater the immersion to better the volunteer product.
Boardable shares the importance of having board and board member evaluations. A board evaluation is a method for a board of directors to verify members are meeting expectations, making progress, following bylaws and gathering feedback. This process brings role clarity and where the board and membership can improve performance. Assessments can be made through self-assessments, peer-to-peer assessments, executive director assessments or an assessment by an outside consultant. Areas of focus for an assessment include governance, finances, fundraising, strategic plan and programs. Determine the method of assessment and plan for ultimately reviewing results.
BoardEffect shares a few best practices for managing advisory boards. It is important that advisory boards understand their purpose. A function of an advisory board is to serve as industry mentors, company-building mentors and personal mentors. Board members must share their vast knowledge and expertise internally and externally to promote the organizations they represent. Advisory board members are expected to open their personal networks with staff and organizational representatives. They need to share their knowledge, experience, expertise and open their doors to donors and others of influence. Diversity is important for your board in all aspects.
There are a variety of advisory boards and member traits that serve on those boards. WeWork points out twelve qualities to look for in an advisory board member. These qualities are coaching ability, passion, excitement, action-oriented personality, deep industry knowledge, culture fit, alignment with organizational team, communication skills, networking skills, intelligence, diversity and experience.
Your goal as a nonprofit leader who works with an advisory board is to have the best possible functioning board. Make sure you have quality board leadership and term limits. Have people on your board that care deeply about the mission and work of your organization. Board members must be willing to volunteer for events and understand the work of the organization from the inside out. They must be willing to recruit others of quality to serve with them. Service and not letterhead must be their reason for engagement.
Remember that board success will enhance your success. In these turbulent days, board effectiveness is more important than ever before. Make sure your advisory board is a priority for you.
F. Duke Haddad, EdD, CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition, he is also president of Duke Haddad and Associates, LLC, and freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the past 13 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration, master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.