My clients often ask me whether they should form an advisory board. Or, if their organization already has one, they wonder how to get more value from it. They complain that the members are simply names taking up space on letterhead. Why did they bother forming one in the first place?
The key to a successful advisory board is remembering one word: ADVISORY. As with a corporate advisory board, the primary role of a nonprofit advisory board is “advice.” It is not money-giving or friend-raising—or any of the other jobs you expect your board of directors to do. In other words, the advisory board is not an extension of your board of directors or a repository for board candidates who did not make the cut.
Most nonprofits need advice from experts in their fields of endeavor, whether health policy, education, or poverty reduction. The quality of their work depends on it, and experts generally like it when you ask their advice. If they don’t, move on to people who do.
Here are two questions to ask before you decide to create a permanent advisory board:
- Do we have the resources to adequately support the advisory board; provide its members with information and updates; and perhaps visit them periodically to remind them of the good work we do?
- Will it really benefit our image to have those names permanently associated with our organization? (Just because everyone else has an advisory board doesn’t mean you have to have one.)