Creating Advisory Councils: The Path to Nonprofit Progress

Frustrated that your board members lack enthusiasm for the cause and aren’t raising money?

Whether you’re the CEO or a board member, your nonprofit organization needs you to drive that board. It’s time to develop the board. Aim…

What if certain extenuating circumstances suggest that a direct approach to the board of directors is not a good idea at this time? Try advisory tips.

Advisory boards are a great way to recharge the juices in leadership and experience advancing a nonprofit organization. Here are some reasons why:

  • Recruit people who do not (yet) qualify for board membership.
  • Expands the opportunities to attract new talent, perspective and participation to the organization, people who are honored by the appointment and eager to contribute.
  • It attracts additional leadership to the organization without threatening current board members, meaning you don’t need to force them to ask one to leave to invite another to join. And, if there is a problem on the board of directors, you can get around it by choosing to fight that battle another day.
  • It involves the leaders who want to serve but do not want to take fiscal responsibility (only the board of directors) of the nonprofit organization.
  • Interests potential members who are often overcommitted but still want to participate, so they like the limited number of meetings per year of the typical council.
  • Helps focus members, thus increasing the chances of success, through “single purpose” advice. If your council exists to “give or take,” members who accept an appointment have already committed to participating financially.
  • It offers an opportunity to increase diversity among the organization’s influencers.
  • Serves as a farm team to develop leadership for board of directors and other organizational opportunities.
  • Represents the organization or one of its departments, combining the professional experience or interests of the board members in the best way.

There are more reasons why advisory boards can be your panacea for leadership or advancement. Add your own experiences to the list.

Perhaps your nonprofit organization reserves the authority to add councils and/or members to the board of directors. This may be appropriate, depending on your organization’s history and needs. But you may want to expedite the creation of advisory councils and the recruitment/appointment of members by developing a brief advisory council plan and then requesting that the board pass a resolution authorizing the CEO to develop advisory councils and recruit more members. forward, as required by the organization. You can also use the template as a job description to orient new council members.

Here is an example of what an advisory board plan might entail:

Assignment: Advise the General Manager on matters related to leadership in the organization and the community.

Advice: Experience, insight, strategic thinking, innovative thinking, networking, trend analysis, encouragement, visioning, leadership, advocacy, mentoring, support, community opportunities, and contributions.

Membership: Members will be appointed for their leadership, experience, wisdom, and contacts, which they can use to build the organization’s effectiveness and reputation. They must be people of good character whose lives and work, by association, will be a credit to others and to the organization. The members will be appointed by the Director General.

Terms: Members will serve without terms (or may develop terms) as long as the CEO and board member deem the service to be mutually beneficial.

Members must attend meetings faithfully and agree to financially support the organization on an annual or project basis.

Meetings: Councils will generally meet four times a year at meetings called by the CEO. Special meetings may be called from time to time.

Authority: Councils serve in an advisory capacity with the consent of the Board of Directors. The recommendations of the advisory board will have no legal or binding authority on the organization, but will likely influence the course of development of the organization.

One last thought for a cardinal rule to do: the worst thing you can do is appoint deputy advisory council members and then not use them (chat, convene, listen, engage, etc.). Putting people on a board that is going nowhere is a waste of time and disrespectful of their talent. Fool them once and you won’t fool them twice.

Advisory boards are a wonderfully flexible and potentially high-impact tool. Cleverly employed by a CEO or a board, advisory councils can act as a bleach shock to the organization’s leadership group. They can help clear things up so you can once again see where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

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