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Advisory Boards

Advisory  vs. governing boards

A true advisory board is exactly that: advisory. It is distinct from the actual governing board of directors, and has no authority other than what is granted to it by the governing board. But, advisory boards can be very useful for nonprofits as idea-engines, “homes” for valued volunteers who have rotated off the governing board and wish to stay connected to the organization, or alternately, for not-yet-board-members, who wish to test-drive their relationship with an organization and who can bring helpful resources of time, talent, and treasure to the organization. Nonprofits may create advisory boards for a variety of reasons including as an additional resource for fundraising, to create a link with a specific group of stakeholders, such as government, or simply to tap into the brainpower of trusted and valued community members.

Three things to consider

Before inviting anyone to join an advisory board, make sure the (1) purpose, (2) role, and (3) authority of the advisory board are well-considered and documented in writing.

  1. A written “charter” (purpose statement) for the advisory board is helpful when recruiting potential advisory members, so they know why the advisory board is important, and what their role will be.
  2. Are the expectations for advisory board members clear? For instance, do the expectations include financial support? How much time do you expect the advisory board members to give to the organization?
  3. What policies may be needed to manage expectations. For instance, If travel to meetings is involved, will the nonprofit reimburse the advisory board members for their travel costs?
  4. Are the limits of authority of the advisory board clear? (e.g., Advisory boards are different from governing boards - Advisory board members don't have the authority to take action on behalf of the nonprofit, but instead are expected to serve as resources and make recommendations, either to the governing board, or to the staff, or to a designated committee of the board.)

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