Many organizations are curious about Advisory Councils and whether to have one to support the work of the board of directors. Probing a little deeper, I have discovered that often board members want an advisory council for one of two main reasons—
- The first is a bit nefarious—-the board member(s) believes by having an Advisory Council they will be able to better control the board and the work of the organization.
- Secondly, the board recognizes the need for additional guidance and support.
Let’s begin by understanding what an Advisory Council is and is not. An Advisory Council is simply a group of individuals who advise and support the work of the organization – either at the board level or at the management level of the organization. Important to note, members of the council are not members of the board of directors and do not have governance authority.
Instead, Advisory Councils can —
- Provide expertise to solve a challenge the organization is facing or to grow the work of the organization and its staff.
- Serve as ambassadors in the community to help you connect with additional people. It should also be noted that one of the roles of the board of directors is to serve as an ambassador in the community.
- Assist with important responsibilities that never seem to be adequately staffed such as fundraising, program evaluation, etc.
- Be candidates for future board positions (look at their role on the council as a “test run” to determine what kind of board member they will be)
But…. for an Advisory Council to be successful, there are some important things to remember:
First, get clarity. Be clear in your expectations of the council, its members and what they are to accomplish. Some councils are part of the ongoing work of the organization while others are a temporary fixture to address an issue or challenge. Are you expecting someone to serve for a short time or is this a longer commitment? How often will the council meet? Will the council interact with the board of directors or staff? Just as board members need a job description, the most successful Advisory Councils will also have one.
Second, provide the resources necessary to ensure its success. An Advisory Council is not a group that can work independently once formed, they need to be nurtured and fed just as the board does. If the Executive Director and or key staff are overwhelmed and over worked, an Advisory Council is probably not the mechanism to use to solve the challenge.
Select members of the Advisory Council carefully. What skills, talents, abilities and connections can the individual bring to the organization? Be honest with the person and let them know why they were asked to serve. This will give the individual an opportunity to gracefully bow out or jump in ready to serve. Note, just because someone is a friend of a board member does not mean they will make a great Council member.
Once the Council is established, make a commitment to an orientation program. Just as board members receive an orientation, provide an overview of the organization, its mission, vision, values, strategic plan, challenges, etc. to the Council. Equipping the Council with information increases the likelihood of success.
Perhaps you follow all of the above and your Advisory Council is functioning great! You wonder why you have not done this sooner. Be watchful and know when it is time to disband the Council. Some keys to knowing when to disband—when the work for which it was formed has been accomplished or when the group is not meeting its goals.
Be sure to show genuine gratitude and appreciation for the time and commitment of each individual who serves on the Advisory Council. Doing so may mean the difference between whether they come back again when needed or not.
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