A nonprofit advisory board supports the unique goals of an organization. Learn how it differs from a board of directors, and why you might want one.
In today’s business ecosystem, nonprofit organizations achieve success with the support of an engaged, informed, and efficient board. To best guide a nonprofit organization, however, the board may need a little help.
Advisory boards can offer the right solution. Nonprofit advisory boards supplement and focus on the specific areas in which the board lacks expertise. Through advisory board meetings, the board and advisory committee work together to advance the mission of their organization.
Nonprofit Advisory Board: Overview
Nearly every nonprofit forms a board of directors to support decision-making, but not all nonprofits also form an advisory board. Both groups serve specific beneficial roles to an organization and provide valuable insight from their respective communities.
But what’s the difference between a board of directors and nonprofit advisory board? It comes down to legal responsibility. A board of directors focuses on governance, but an advisory board has no governance power or fiduciary responsibility. An advisory board provides expert insight, and is often called upon to fill a gap in the organization’s knowledge.
How to Form a Nonprofit Advisory Board
When considering an advisory board, think specifically about why you want one and what you hope to accomplish. Perhaps your board and leadership live in suburban areas, but your organization works in a metro area. You might want advisory board members who live and work in your target zip codes to better inform your organization’s strategy.
Next, create a description of how your advisory board will operate. Include the purpose of the proposed advisory board, duties, meeting and performance expectations, and guidelines for membership. Additionally, consider the amount of time you’re asking these advisory board members to commit.
With a description in hand, you can start recruiting for your advisory board. Who should chair the advisory board? Consider someone who’s already engaged with your organization and is passionate about the work the nonprofit does.
What are the Different Types of Nonprofit Advisory Boards?
Even though all advisory boards share a common goal — to support the nonprofit organization — there are different types, which include:
Governance advisory boards are the most common type of boards. They take care of nonprofit governance issues, including board member recruitment, onboarding, and periodic assessment of the board and audits of bylaws.
Fundraising boards are formed to help the nonprofit organization raise funds, whether through outreach, events, or other efforts.
Oftentimes, an organization seeks to train the next cohort of board members and stakeholders. A young professionals advisory committee brings new energy and creativity to the organization, and can help with outreach efforts.
Letterhead advisory boards are largely symbolic. They are expected to prove that advisors affiliate with a nonprofit organization. Still, the most significant decisions are up to the main board. A practical example of a letterhead advisory board is a situation in which a well-respected medical professional would lend gravitas to a health care nonprofit.
This type of board focuses primarily on running specific programs within the organization. Often, these programs require more time or energy to carry out.
Elements of an Effective Nonprofit Advisory Board
Sometimes, the advisory board can be overly focused on what’s expected of them. Consequently, they pay insufficient attention to business processes and relationships.
To make your nonprofit advisory board as effective as possible, consider the following:
An effective board requires board members with skills and assignments that are aligned with the organization’s needs and the members’ personal interests. Finding these people requires an in-depth understanding of the organization’s needs.
The culture of an effective board is instrumental to meaningful participation among the different board members. You want to create an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect among the members of the board. When these are present, it’s possible for board members to enjoy engagement with each other, which then translates to higher levels of participation and meeting attendance.
Use OnBoard to Power Your Advisory Board
When properly utilized, an advisory board can be quite instrumental in a nonprofit’s visibility. But even the best boards struggle without clear direction or the tools to succeed. OnBoard is committed to making your board management a breeze.
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