It’s a well-established fact that boards should strive to build a board that has diversity of gender, culture, ethnicity, age, and other demographics. It is also well-supported that boards should have a diverse array of expertise, knowledge, and talent. Despite best efforts to create a well-rounded board of directors, boards often benefit from experts that have achieved the highest degrees of expertise in a particular niche. A collaboration of such experts makes up an advisory board. As advisory members sit around a conference table bouncing ideas off of each other’s knowledge, an unmatched synergy soon develops. The unconstrained environment creates an environment where ideas flow freely. When it works well, that flow of discussion brings out some of the most innovative concepts that were ever born and the boardroom becomes the hatching place of new and great ideas. Board members also rely on advisory board members when problems or concerns arise and they need expert help.
What is an Advisory Board?
Advisory board members provide expertise and advice to the management and board of a corporation, foundation, non-profit entity, or other organization. While the advisory board can have a strong influence on board discussions and decisions, the advisory board does not have any legal or financial obligations. An advisory board is generally more informal than a regular board meeting with greater flexibility and a looser structure as compared with the full board of directors that they serve.
Types of Non-Profit Advisory Boards
Non-profit organizations often create advisory boards to fulfill a specific purpose. Here are a few examples of non-profit advisory boards.
An advisory board may be created for the purpose of fundraising. This could be either for the advisory board to plan or execute fundraising events, or to make personal donations on their own behalf.
Another type of board is a programmatic advisory board that consists of experts in a particular industry. This type of advisory board provides input and makes suggestions to the board, using their distinct areas of expertise.
Some non-profits have a Letterhead advisory board. This means that the advisory board members are listed on the letterhead of the organization, but they do little else other than support the organization. The board forms a Letterhead advisory board when they want their members to know that the organization is affiliated with and supported by people of notoriety.
A small organization that does not have its own non-profit status may operate under the auspices of an established board as a fiscally sponsored organization. Because the sponsored board cannot legally appoint or elect a board of directors, the board of a fiscally sponsored entity forms an advisory board that works much like a board of directors, until they can establish their own non-profit status and separate from the sponsor.
The Advisory Board Meeting
The Aegis Clinical Advisory Board offers some helpful strategies for planning effective advisory board meetings.
- Start planning the meeting at least three months prior to the date of the meeting, or longer for international boards.
- Consider what the board needs to know. Pull members from the advisory board to create an agenda and review content. Consult with the board chair regarding questions and issues that will support the board. Invite input from important stakeholders to solidify the agenda.
- Be prepared with questions and objections. This will generate informative and lively discussions.
- Discuss short and long-term objectives. Include specific and measurable actions and decide how to communicate results to the board and other interested parties.
- Balance the agenda so that longer and shorter topics are addressed which will keep the meeting interesting. Put some thought into how to engage less responsive members.
- Prepare high quality agendas, slides, presentations, and post-meeting reports.
Running the Advisory Board Meeting
It’s not necessary to identify a board chair for an advisory board meeting. It is important to choose a facilitator or moderator that starts the meeting on time and keeps it running smoothly. The facilitator should move the discussion along while encouraging participation from all members, drawing out opinions from members that are quiet. Insightful facilitators will use items on the agenda to expand discussions beyond the scope of the item, but still keep them connected to the central issue.
Bringing in outside speakers can spark excitement and invigorate discussions among the advisory board. When choosing more than one speaker, be set a time limit for each speaker and communicate the limit to them, so they can prepare to stay within it. The facilitator will want to give the speakers some idea of what the advisory members hope to accomplish and how those goals intersect with the speaker’s talk. Also, the facilitator should make sure that members and speakers know the exact location and time for the meeting.
The purpose of the advisory board is to offer insight and expertise outside of what the board of directors has within itself. Advisory boards can exist to offer general advice or be formed to serve a specific purpose. Advisory board meetings have a looser structure, but they should still have a defined purpose and goals for meeting. Well-run advisory boards have the potential to substantially enhance the work of a board.
Want more on Advisory Boards? Read our post on advisory board best practices!