The Value of an Advisory Board

Recently I’ve worked with several organizations to build an Advisory Board.  On a basic level, the purpose of an Advisory Board is to provide advice and candid feedback to your organization–regardless if you are for-profit or are a nonprofit.  Such boards provide keen insight for leaders and can serve to propel an organization into new areas.  The following is a brief introduction as to the purpose and composition of an Advisory Board.


Enhance your business and organizational knowledge and capabilities through planned conversations with experienced and engaged advisors

  • Increase financial health, services scope, and product portfolio

  • Build overall leadership acumen through exposure to divergent, experienced opinions

  • Increase personal and business network resulting in potential customers/donors, suppliers, and allies

  • Create a mechanism for honest feedback regarding ideas, plans, and products

Composition of Board

An ideal Board will include: (and note that while these characteristics are generally written for a business, they can easily be adapted to a nonprofit organization)

  • Key customers, particularly those with long-term experience with you and in the industry

  • Key suppliers, recognized for their operational expertise

  • Financial professionals–bankers, financial advisors, capital managers, or those with similar experience

  • Coach or advisor–professional consultant to similar businesses, industries, and situations

  • Sages–experienced professionals in your field, those with many years of experience, and those with a proven record of success

  • Additional members who have a genuine interest in your organization and industry

  • Recognized community and industry leaders

And for nonprofits, consider key donors, patrons, and those who are connected extensively in your service-providing area.  These leaders should be aware of historical, cultural, and future variables that can guide you and your organization.

Optimal size for a Board is 6-12, depending on your size, strategic plan, budget, experience, and growth plans.  In some situations a larger Board may be warranted, particularly for nonprofit and educational institutions.  And as can be the case with nonprofits, an Advisory Board may be a subset of the Board of Directors.

You should consider the potential for Board members to collaborate not only with you but with each other when choosing members.  To aid you, employ your professional contacts to determine if Board members will not only help you but will be able to work with other members.  Use caution and prudence when determining final Board membership.  Nothing is gained if you have Board members who will not participate fully, professionally, or honestly.

Spend time with each Board member so there is mutual understanding as well as the foundation for trust and respect.  This begins in the selection process and continues during the course of their term.

It is a good idea to have staggered Board terms so that there is some continuity.  You may have to balance this need with the potential commitment from the Board member. 

Lastly, spend some time with annually with your collective Board on development.  It’s not necessary for an “annual retreat” yet there is wisdom in planning discussions, setting annual objectives, and creating avenues for forthright feedback.  And certainly spend some time fostering collaboration and professionalism among the Board members through planned activities.  Think creatively and strategically in developing your collective Board.

At the core, Advisory Boards can build stronger leaders who can lead stronger organizations.  These trusted advisors can be your best source for development and growth.

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