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Should We Have an Advisory Board?

Nadia Prescott

Every nonprofit organization must have a Board of Directors who is financially and legally responsible for the entity. But should you have an advisory council? There are a few reasons why some organizations may choose to do this:

  • For periodic input on program ideas. This might be a group of individuals who might not otherwise be willing or able to be on the board because they cannot contribute financially for example low income clients. Or there may be a conflict of interest with known experts in a particular field.
  • Fundraising: an advisory council might constitute individuals who only do fundraising. Hard as though it might be for many of you to believe, some individuals are fundraising powerhouses and only want to be involved raising money. They don’t want the legal or financial responsibilities or time commitment that comes with being a board member. Yet they are well-connected and willing to support your calls. Your job is to understand how you can engage these individuals to the benefit of your organization.
  • Keeping board members engaged: another reason you might consider an advisory board is for board members who have completed their terms of office according to your bylaws. Having an advisory Council might be a way of keeping them involved with the organization.
  • Finally, if you work under the fiscal sponsorship of another organization, the advisory board will perform many of the same duties as a board – without legal responsibilities. If the organization decides to apply for its own 501©(3) status, the advisory board usually becomes the Board of Directors

If you’re considering setting up an advisory board make sure you commit the time to set up the Council correctly and prepare for meetings to ensure this is an effective group and those members feel their time is well used. Consider the following:

  • Clear about the role and responsibilities that distinguish the advisory Council from the Board of Directors
  • Understand the main purpose of the Council and the people you ask to join the Council. You want a complementary mix of skill sets so the Council is as productive in its mission as it can be. While you may want to engage some people, the advisory Council may not be the right place depending on their time commitment and what they offer.
  • If the role for your Council is fundraising, consider calling it something like “Friends of the…..”
  • Distinguish the relationship between the board and the advisory Council and know how the two will liaise and how often they will communicate.
  • Know who is responsible for making sure the advisory Council meetings happen
    and are productive.

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