Suzi Wilkins Berl
Advisory Boards can be of enormous help to nonprofit organizations. Boards usually comprise members of the
community whose expertise you seek: scientists, community leaders, heads of other NGOs, etc. Often, members
of an Advisory Board have “name recognition” upon which the organization can “trade”. However, they should be
selected for their skills and resources to the organization – not just their “name appeal”.
Clarifying Roles & Responsibilities:
As you invite someone to join an Advisory Board, you should be very clear how you plan to use these individuals
and how often. Indeed, they need to know what they can anticipate in the way of duties (e. g. attend a meeting
once a year, make 3 – 8 phone calls on behalf of the organization annually; review a draft document 3 times a
year, etc.). Just as with a Board of Directors, you need to acknowledge their contributions to the organization.
Differentiating From Board of Directors:
An Advisory Board does just that – advises the organization. It is distinct from a Board of Directors, which sets
policies & makes decisions for the organization. As you ask an individual to join an Advisory Board, you should
clarify this difference.
Pros of Setting Up an Advisory Board:
It brings additional expertise and resources to your organization.
The Advisory Board provides your group with additional “name recognition” and with de facto endorsement of
Cons of Establishing an Advisory Board:
This group, as any other, requires “care & feeding”. Recognize that it will require time and energy to maintain.
(Note: I do not recommend a group establishing an Advisory Board until they have a Board of Directors and a
committee system that work well. Otherwise, the role of the Advisory Board can be unclear and its very presence
can diminish the effectiveness of the Board of Directors and the committees.)
Tips to Consider:
Set the goals of the Advisory Committee up front (i. e. why you’re establishing it).
Clarify their roles and responsibilities, so that they can determine how you plan to use them and therefore how
much time it will require.
Make the “ask” in writing, followed by a phone call.
Determine who will be the liaison with the Advisory Board (e. g. the Board President, the Executive Director, etc.),
so that someone will be responsible for this group.