Black Friday 2020 Creating Advisory Councils – The Nonprofit Organization’s Path to Progress

Frustrated because your governing board members lack zeal for the cause and won’t raise money?

If you’re the CEO or a board member, your nonprofit organization needs you to galvanize that board. It’s board development time. But…

What if certain extenuating circumstances suggest a direct approach to the governing board is not a good idea at this time? Try advisory councils.

Advisory councils are a great way to re-charge the juices in a nonprofit organization’s leadership and advancement experience. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Recruits individuals who may not (yet) qualify for governing board membership.
  • Expands opportunities for attracting new talent, perspective, and participation to the organization, people who are honored by the appointment and eager to contribute.
  • Attracts additional leadership to the organization without threatening current governing board members, i.e. you need not be forced to invite one to leave in order to invite another to join. And, if there’s a problem on the governing board, you can by-pass it by choosing to wage that battle another day.
  • Engages leaders who want to serve but do not want to assume fiscal responsibility (governing board only) for the nonprofit organization.
  • Interests potential members who are often over-committed but still want to be involved, so they like the typical council’s limited number of meetings per year.
  • Helps focus members, thus raising probabilities of success, via “single-purpose” councils. If your council exists to “give or get,” members who accept an appointment have already made a commitment to be financially involved.
  • Offers an opportunity to increase diversity among the organization’s influentials.
  • Acts as a farm team for developing leadership for the governing board and other organizational opportunities.
  • Represents the organization or one of its departments, matching council members’ professional expertise or interests in a best fit.

There are more reasons why advisory councils can be your leadership or advancement panacea. Add your own experiences to the list.

Perhaps your nonprofit organization reserves to the governing board the authority to appoint councils and/or members. This can be appropriate, depending upon your organization’s history and needs. But you may want to expedite the creation of advisory councils and the recruitment/appointment of members by developing a brief advisory council blueprint and then request the board pass a resolution empowering the CEO to develop advisory councils and enlist members later as the organization may require. You can also use the blueprint as a job description for orienting new council members.

Here’s an example of what an advisory council blueprint might entail:

Mission: To advise the CEO on matters pertaining to leadership in the organization and the community.

Counsel: Expertise, insight, strategic thinking, innovative ideas, networking, trend analysis, encouragement, vision casting, leadership, advocacy, mentoring, support, community opportunities and contributions.

Membership: Members will be appointed for their leadership, expertise, wisdom, and contacts, which they can use to build the effectiveness and reputation of the organization. They shall be people of good character whose lives and work will by association be a credit to each other and the organization. Members will be appointed by the CEO.

Terms: Members will serve without terms (or you can develop terms) for as long as the CEO and the council member consider the service mutually beneficial.

Members should attend meetings faithfully and agree to support the organization financially on an annual or project basis.

Meetings: Councils will typically convene four times per year in meetings called by the CEO. Special meetings may be called from time to time.

Authority: Councils serve in an advisory capacity with the consent of the Board of Directors. Advisory council recommendations will have no legal or binding authority upon the organization but will likely influence the course of the organization’s development.

One last thought you should make a cardinal rule: The worst thing you can do is appoint advisory council members and then not use (converse, convene, listen, engage, etc.) them. Putting people on a council that goes nowhere wastes their time and disrespects their talent. Fool them once and you won’t fool them twice.

Advisory councils are a wonderfully flexible and potentially high-impact tool. Skillfully employed by a CEO or board, advisory councils can act like a chlorine shock to the organization’s leadership pool. They can help make things clear so you can once again see where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

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