Non-profits tend to have little information technology (IT) expertise on staff or among its board of directors. In this instance, a community health center desperately needed to upgrade its computer network and had this very issue. So, to help find a solution, they decided to form an advisory committee comprised of people who could analyze the situation and help guide their 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.
Above is simply one example of the benefit of forming an advisory board. These boards can function to guide specific projects or supplement existing expertise. They also can provide roles for major donors. These donors may not be right for your board of directors but have the potential to help in a more ‘hands-on’ approach through advisory board service.
Does your non-profit 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 also can open the door to funding opportunities. If, for example, your non-profit 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 non-profit on a limited basis. In addition, 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 also may 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.