Are Advisory Boards Worth It?

Susan E. Mangels, Ph.D., Senior Vice President of Consulting Services
It depends. Most nonprofit CEOs would say that they do not need another board to “manage.”

But an effective advisory board can benefit a nonprofit while supporting leadership. The board can bring valuable wisdom, new perspectives, key connections, and prestige to the organization.

Here are some things to keep in mind to maximize the input of these busy professionals on your advisory board:

  • Mission: Know why you want an advisory board and what you want them to accomplish.
  • Job descriptions: Define what they will do and what they will not do (like govern or manage programs).
  • Specific mandate: Establish their raison d’etre; have a real project on which they focus and for which they provide input.
  • Define the types of people you need to accomplish the mission: community members, specialists with expertise, connectors, and mavens.
  • Aim for diversity: Think about what kinds of backgrounds, ages, and voices you need at the table to grow your organization.
  • Educate them on the significance of your organization and on the areas in which they can help you build.
  • Use as a seedbed: Over time you may see their fit as potential governing board members, or as donors once they learn more about your organization.
  • Leverage their connections: When they get to know you, they can often open doors to potential donors, community leaders, and industry contacts.
  • Keep it simple: Have periodic — perhaps twice annual — well-planned meetings that leverage their wisdom and input, and make good use of their time with you.
  • Make it easy for them to help you: These valuable volunteers should find it enjoyable to accomplish their work with you. Give them clear tasks.
  • Term limits: It can be hard to ask ineffective board members to leave, so include term limits in the agreement. You can always ask the ones you like to stay on board!
  • Thank them with direct thank-yous, special news updates, and recognition.

Use these tips to establish a talented advisory board that helps you accomplish your mission more effectively than ever before.

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