Staffing an advisory council – words of warning

We knew an executive director of a nonprofit who did a time study (tracking her time by 10 minute intervals) that showed she was spending more than 40% of her time on the business of the board—supporting them, preparing for meetings, engaging in board communications, attending meetings of board committees, and so on.

While we would hope that staffing an advisory council would not require that same time commitment or intensity of work, don’t underestimate the work involved. Our experience tells us that the best advisory councils are well-staffed. By “well-staffed” we mean that they have a staff person working with them who cares about the people involved, who makes the work of the advisory council a priority, and whose annual performance is measured in part by the quality of support he/she provides to the advisory council. Keep in mind that “quality of support” is often directly related to the amount of time a person has available to provide that support.

If you are going to ask community members or the organization’s stakeholders to be actively involved on an advisory council, conduct a carefully considered assessment of just how much support this group will require. If it is to be successful, and a benefit to the organization, odds are that it will require significantly more time than you might anticipate. Don’t shortchange the advisory council by thinking you can staff the council by adding that responsibility to an already busy staff person.

If your volunteers are going to have a really good experience, and speak well of you and your organization, give them the staffing support they deserve. It will pay dividends down the road.

You’ll find more best practice suggestions for boards and advisory councils in the blog section of our Starboard website: Or feel free to get in touch by using our contact form. We are ready to help!