Fundraising Q&A: Recruiting advisory boards

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What should we know about recruiting an Advisory Board/Committee?

The term "advisory board, council, committee or group" are all synonymous. Inviting influential individuals to provide expertise or to support the efficient management of an organization is a great idea but is often pursued without adequate forethought. This article is intended to help the board of directors, chief executive and fundraisers set the stage for recruiting an effective team.

What is an advisory board and what do they do?

An advisory board is a voluntary collection of men and women who provide counsel to the organization?s leaders. Unlike the board of directors, they have neither authority to vote on corporate matters, nor a legal fiduciary responsibility. The structure may be a standing (ongoing) or ad hoc (one time) committee.

In recent research conducted by BoardSource, advisory groups are performing a variety of functions. In small grassroots charities these roles include:

  • operating and managing programs
  • reviewing applications for funding
  • making recommendations for allocations
  • raising funds
  • conducting oversight and evaluation activities
 

Advisory groups, especially at larger organizations, can be instruments of accountability, working with staff or board members to ensure that programs are running smoothly.

Benefits of an advisory team

There are a variety of reasons why a charity may opt to form an advisory committee including ways to:

  • Broaden the volunteer base with well-connected and respected individuals who may or may not be potential board members, depending on their existing commitments;
  • Build the organization?s reputation through influential members who are willing to leverage goodwill in their respective communities;
  • Strengthen fundraising efforts from amongst members? peers;
  • Solicit the expertise of specialists or major donors, many of whom are too busy with competing priorities to join your board of directors;
  • Honour "retired" leaders of the organization — both former staff and board;
  • Re-energize the organizational leadership;
  • Bridge the gap between the nonprofit and for-profit worlds.

The fact that advisory councils don?t have to meet the same recruitment requirements of the board may be advantageous. Depending on the criteria necessary for trustees, an advisory counsel can attract a variety of different talents, qualities and characteristics and increase the diversity of your charity. In the event that there is a powerful governance board in place, it?s possible the advisory group will ensure representation of the individuals or clients that the organization serves.

When you are recruiting individuals, be sure to identify the benefits of membership. Think WIIFT (what's in it for them?). Although one of the committee?s purposes may be to help fundraise, potential members often appreciate not having legal or financial responsibilities for the organization. They might also like the time-limited nature of the committee or knowledge that they have one very clear goal to meet by a particular deadline. The opportunity to have stimulating contact with distinguished colleagues might be appealing. Also for subject matter experts, committee involvement helps motivate members to stay on top of their game. But perhaps most important...provided your charity can live up to the challenge...is membership in a professional committee that guarantees an efficient use of member's time in an action-oriented and enjoyable environment.

Strong communication sets the stage

As the offspring of a large family that collected children (four originals, two adopted and two more that lived with us) I recall my father stating "this is a prime example of lack of communication" whenever something went wrong. Having consulted now for more than two decades, I'm struck by how the crux of many a problem is rooted in the same issue. In fact, we could probably all save a lot of time and money if we communicated more effectively every day and yet clarification is frequently overlooked.

Considering your advisory team usually comprises busy, influential business leaders in your community, don't waste their time! Make every effort to spell out as many details as possible prior to recruiting individuals. Then ensure you are well organized for each encounter, including adequate human and financial resources to support the committee?s purpose...your upfront investment will pay dividends.

  • Define the purpose of the advisory committee — ask yourself — what needs to be accomplished that the governing body cannot do? Committee mandates may vary significantly from one organization to another, but be sure the group can function independently, within its defined parameters.
  • Distinguish the roles and relationship between the advisory team and the charity?s governing board.
  • Mutual trust and respect are prerequisites for the potential member and your charity.
  • Find people who are strongly committed to your mission and vision and are willing to lend more than their names — the strengths you require will depend on the committee?s purpose.
  • Appoint a chair who inspires leadership, commitment and action...fun helps too!
  • Clearly outline expectations for the group and provide a detailed Statement of Agreement and/or committee mandate, limits on authority, job description, calendar of activities, decision-making, conflict-of-interest and ethics policies...even before they commit to ensure mutual understanding.
  • For fundraising, set (and communicate) the amount you need raised by when and provide staff support...if you are recruiting an advisory team to offer the fundraising expertise that your organization lacks, be sure to forewarn them in advance.
  • Identify the time commitment — hours (per month or event), number of meetings to attend, fundraising calls, etc.
  • Outline a reciprocal reporting schedule (two-way communication) and define who is the committee chair?s key contact — usually the chief executive, board chair or director of development, again, depending on the purpose of the group.
  • Be sure to provide a thorough orientation for each member and periodic refreshers for the team.
  • Members must be committed to the work of the group and its relationship to the mission, vision and strategic plan of the charity.
 

Is an advisory council right for your organization?

The answer to this question is "it depends"...on the structure of your organization, staff and volunteers. Like all committees, you need to understand that this group will require "care and feeding" in order to contribute to the best of their ability. Ideally, if you provide very clear documentation of the charity?s expectations and support the committee in the pursuit of their goals, you?ll attract individuals who are truly committed to the mission and vision. However, considering the calibre of community leader you might want to recruit, don?t underestimate the potential ego that may be attached. Busy people are also used to having "handlers" so be prepared to offer that professional assistance. You must weigh the advantages and disadvantages between a powerful asset and time-consuming distraction.

Don't form an "advisory" team if you?re not prepared to listen or act upon their advice! Having said that, by outlining parameters and sharing the organization's strategic priorities with the group you can ensure that the feedback you garner is appropriate to the needs and budget of the charity. Although the committee has no legal or financial authority, decisions that are made within its mandate are presented as recommendations to the governing board. The board of directors needs to articulate how suggestions will be received from the committee and taken under advisement.

Remember that successful fundraising is a team effort. Setting up an ancillary group to ask their friends and colleagues for a financial investment does not negate the governing board?s responsibility to fundraise too. The best advisory committees augment the work of an active and involved board.

Summary

There are pros and cons to striking an advisory committee. However, the benefits can outweigh the challenges with thoughtful planning, clear expectations, adequate human and financial resources and good leadership practices.

Other resources

 

Cynthia Armour is a freelance specialist in fundraising and governance. A Certified FundRaising Executive (CFRE) since 1995, she volunteers as a subject matter expert with CFRE International. She works with boards and senior staff to ensure that strong leadership will enhance organizational capacity to govern and fundraise effectively. Contact Cynthia directly at 705-799-0636, e-mail answers@elderstone.ca, or visit www.elderstone.ca for more information about her services.

To submit a question for a future column, or to comment on a previous one, please contact editor@charityvillage.com. No identifying information will appear in this column.

Disclaimer: Advice and recommendations are based on limited information provided and should be used as a guideline only. Neither the author nor CharityVillage.com make any warranty, express or implied, or assume any legal liability for accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided in whole or in part within this article.

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