Advisory Boards

Nonprofit Advisory Boards

Think advisory boards are just for profit-making businesses? Think again! Nonprofit organizations can also benefit from the wisdom and experience of strategically recruited advisors.

Advisory boards typically help businesses with decision-making and strategic planning issues.

These non-governing boards are comprised of experienced business leaders with a broad range of backgrounds and skill sets. It's not uncommon for companies of all sizes, from small businesses to large corporations, to create an advisory board to facilitate the achievement of short- and long-term goals.

Nonprofit organizations can also benefit from an advisory board (or advisory committee). Like their for-profit counterparts, nonprofits face a laundry list of tactical decisions and planning requirements. Rather than relying on the limited perspectives of in-house team members, nonprofits engage outside advisors to provide their organizations with specialized expertise, community contacts, and an objective opinion.

Nonprofit advisory committees are similar to for-profit advisory boards, but the two are not identical. Even though they serve the same general function, nonprofit advisory boards require special handling in a few key areas.

  • Recruiting. Finding advisors for a nonprofit is actually more complicated than it is to find advisors for a small business. The volunteer nature of nonprofits leads many people to believe that a pulse is the only requirement for board participation. In reality, you need to focus your recruitment efforts on the same people that participate in business advisory boards - the best and the brightest from a diverse range of industries and fields.
  • Governance. In a nonprofit organization, it's important for the board of directors to approve the activities of the advisory board. Advisory board members should be given clear parameters regarding their role and should avoid crossing the line into governance.
  • Goals & objectives. The goals and objectives of a nonprofit advisory board are to help the organization advance its core mission. For board members with day jobs in the business community, this can be challenging because nonprofit goals sometimes conflict with normal business goals. The executive director and the board of directors are responsible for keeping the advisors focused and on-target.
  • Board compensation. Board of directors and advisory board members are legally prohibited from receiving financial compensation for their involvement in the organization. Meals and other insignificant non-cash forms of compensation may be acceptable, but advisors should be primarily motivated by a desire to advance the organization's mission.
  • Duration & review. Like any board, a nonprofit advisory board should be periodically rotated to inject fresh energy and new perspectives into the organization. In between rotations, consider recruiting additional advisors to offer advice about short-term goals and strategies.

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