One Nonprofit Lawyer’s Tips on Use of Advisory Boards

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Piotr Sikora /

May 23, 2012; Source: Law for Change

Phoenix-based nonprofit lawyer Ellis Carter has some brief but useful tips on when and how to use advisory boards that supplement the functions and skills of a nonprofit’s board of directors.  Carter notes that, most frequently, advisory boards are created for “influential individuals” in a nonprofit’s network “who don’t have the time to serve on the governing board.” A typical example is a fundraising advisory board or a “campaign cabinet” to “endorse the [nonprofit’s fundraising] campaign and make introductions to potential donors.”

Carter warns, however, that, “From time to time, nonprofits fail to clearly delineate an advisory board’s role. In such cases, the advisory board members may misunderstand their authority and hard feelings can develop. We have even seen organizations that purport to have two boards without making clear which board is actually responsible for governing the organization.” She suggests the following steps for a useful and productive advisory board dynamic:

  1. Create a written description of the advisory board’s responsibilities and the expectations for its members.
  2. Assign a liaison from the official board of directors.
  3. Commit the time to work with the advisory board so that “advisory board members [don’t] feel ignored or superfluous.”

From time to time, the NPQ Newswire encounters advisory boards whose members don’t know what role they’re supposed to play, if any. In some cases, such as the troubled Second Mile charity in central Pennsylvania, advisory board members don’t even know that they’re listed as advisory board members. Carter’s practical advice is worth reading.—Rick Cohen

  • Pete Durbin

    How does one deal with a member ( who is also a major donor) of an advisory committee who begins acting as if he is the only one who has the knowledge and experience to deal with issues before the Board of Directors and insists he be included in their meetings?