Be Clear About The Purpose of Your Advisory Council

At their best, an advisory council can provide a tremendous benefit to your organization and the pursuit of your organizational mission. At their worst, they can drain resources, tie staff in knots, generate governance challenges for the board, and cause advisory council members to become adversaries rather than allies.

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 that 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 (as in the case of an ACO Advisory Council)

· 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.

It is important to note here that some advisory committees are ongoing, permanent entities while others are time limited. It is most helpful for all involved to know in advance what the time horizon will be. It can sometimes be easier to recruit volunteers for a time limited advisory group—like an ad hoc advisory committee for a capital campaign—than it is for a group that requires a long-term commitment (but sometimes the opposite is true!).

In later Starboard Blog entries, we will talk more about factors to keep in mind as you consider developing an advisory group, but we can’t stress enough that the decision to form an advisory council should not be taken lightly!