Be Clear About the “Purpose” Before Launching an Advisory Council

At its best, an advisory council can provide a tremendous benefit to your organization and the pursuit of your mission. At its worst, an advisory council can drain resources, tie staff in knots, generate governance challenges for the board, and transform allies into adversaries. We’ve seen it happen!

Building a successful advisory council takes time, attention, and real care, but your chances of success increase dramatically if you start by giving some real thought to the purpose for starting one. Some of the reasons organizations start an advisory committee follow:

  • Provide technical expertise or advice on issues of importance to the organization—technology, science, policy, etc.
  • Offer community feedback as the “eyes and ears” of the organization
  • Help to raise money for specific programs or capital efforts
  • Review, monitor, or assess a specific program and its impact
  • Engage former board members and other people of influence who are important to the organization but who cannot or will not serve on the board.
  • Actively represent the voice of the clients or patients in program design or delivery, service evaluation, and quality control efforts
  • Serve as an unbiased and independent sounding board
  • Play many of the roles listed above for a specific program for which the nonprofit is serving as a fiscal agent.

The list above is by no means an exhaustive one. Advisory groups (whether you call them “councils” or “committees”) can fill a multitude of purposes, but give careful thought to why you may want to establish one, and then take time to read some of our other suggestions and words of warning in the blog section of our Starboard website: Our consulting team has had extensive experience with advisory councils, so encourage you to contact us now if you would like advice or assistance as you consider the pros and cons of establishing an advisory council.