Empowering Your Advisory Board: They Need You and You Need Them!
We cannot dispute the fact that advisory boards fulfill a very different role than that of governance boards. Simply put, the advisory board has no fiduciary responsibility and its advice is non-binding. It does not govern the organization, nor does it serve as its accountable body. It exhibits no legal obligation, financial oversight, or the authority to create organizational vision, mission, values and policies.
However, a common misconception is that all advisory boards function as mere committees of governing boards and are only positioned to advise, evaluate and play devil’s advocate from a 30,000 foot elevation. Furthermore, it is often assumed that staff leadership work diligently to limit the advisory board’s capacity to make recommendations and provide context for decisions maintained by the governance board.
In the case of our friends at Citizen Schools North Carolina (CSNC) and other, similar chapter-based/regional non-profits, the advisory board plays a critical role in maintaining organizational health on a local level. It is not only the national governance board’s eyes and ears in the state of North Carolina, but also a vital partner in executing key, resource development activity.
Ultimately, CSNC staff relies on the advisory board to help raise necessary funds, generate visibility, and promote the mission to public and private stakeholders locally. In support of these efforts, the staff is working thoroughly to empower the advisory board by:
- Establishing Priorities:
- The advisory board is focusing on defining and structuring its efforts to support fundraising, marketing, and advocacy.
- Each member is committing to specific objectives and tactics to address each of these key, priority areas.
- Evaluating Size:
- The advisory board is working to grow its size appropriately, aiming to recruit enough people to more easily manage the work load, to widen its perspective, and to expand the organization’s network of friends and funders.
- At the same time, the advisory board will maintain meaningful and constant activity, accountability, and unlimited communication.
- Implementing Structure:
- The advisory board will structure its recruitment, committees and meeting agendas to address key opportunities and challenges associated with fundraising, marketing, and advocacy.
- Each member will work strategically in one priority area, but also commit to providing some minimum level of support to the other priority areas.
- Rethinking Process:
- Staff will make preparation for meetings appropriate and painless, and consider the advisory board’s capacity to digest supplemental material.
- Meetings will be limited to addressing 2-3 strategic topics, achieving outcomes and establishing actions items, rather than reporting on a broad spectrum of organizational needs and issues; advisory board members will lead discussion, focusing on their progress and needs associated with their individual objectives and tactics.
- Assessing Profile:
- The advisory board will consider their own time and propensity to execute on fundraising, marketing and advocacy strategies, and recruit new members appropriately.
- They will achieve a healthy balance of iconic leaders and emerging leaders on the advisory board, hoping to bring both credibility and doers to the table.
About Citizen Schools
Citizen Schools is a leading national education initiative that partners with middle schools to expand the learning day for children in low-income communities across the country through afterschool and expanded learning time programs. The organization mobilizes a second shift of afternoon educators, who provide academic support, leadership development, and “apprenticeships”—hands-on projects taught by volunteers from business and civic organizations. At 37 middle schools in seven states across the country, Citizen Schools students develop the skills they need to succeed in high school, college, the workforce, and civic life.