A community health center desperately needed to upgrade its computer network. Unfortunately, the nonprofit had little IT expertise on staff or on its board of directors. That’s when it decided to form an advisory committee made up of people who could analyze the situation and help guide IT decision-making. This included a retired technology company executive, a cybersecurity specialist and a longtime volunteer who, in her paid job, managed technology purchasing for a hospital network.
This is only one example of an advisory board. These boards can function to guide specific projects or supplement existing expertise. At the same time, they can provide roles for major donors who may not be right for your regular board.
Does your nonprofit need an advisory board? Look at your general board members’ demographics and collective profile. Does your board lack representation from certain groups — particularly relative to the communities your organization serves? One thing advisory boards can do is offer opportunities to diversify leadership.
Also consider the skills current board members bring — or don’t bring — to the table. Do you have enough financial expertise on your board? Does the group have adequate fundraising or grant writing experience? What about public relations skills? An advisory board can help fill in critical knowledge gaps.
Adding advisory board members can also open the door to funding opportunities. If, for example, your nonprofit is considering expanding its geographic presence, it may make sense to find an advisory board member from outside your current area. That person might be connected with business leaders and be able to introduce board members to appropriate people in the community.
The advisory role is a great way to get people involved who can’t necessarily make the time commitment that a regular board position would require. It also might appeal to recently retired individuals or stay-at-home parents wanting to get involved with a nonprofit on a limited basis. And it can be an ideal way to “test out” potential board members. If a spot opens on your current board and some of your advisory board members are interested in making a bigger commitment, you’ll have a ready pool of informed individuals from which to choose.
Just make sure that advisory board recruits understand their role. They aren’t involved in your organization’s governance and can’t introduce motions or vote on them. But they can propose ideas, make recommendations and influence voting board members. Often, advisory board members organize campaigns and manage short-term projects.
When to disband
Advisory boards usually are disbanded after a project — such as the computer system upgrade for the fictitious advisory board mentioned previously — has been successfully completed. You may also want to consider eliminating an advisory board if it doesn’t seem to be meeting its objectives or requires more staff support than you can provide.
For more information on governance and financial issues, contact us.