Building and Sustaining Your Group
and sustain a strong group of advisors / advocates will require 4 simple
what you need advisors / ambassadors / advocates to
Determine whether or not (or how often) you want your
advisors to meet
job descriptions / lists of expectations
list of candidates for each type of task, recruit them, and let them get to
Step 1: High-Potential Advisor
The highest potential for a group of advisors / ambassadors
/ advocates is to provide engaged support for your work in the
The logical first step in building
your team is therefore to know what kinds of support you need. Here are just
some of the tasks your organization may need community support to
- Engagement & communication /
ambassadors for the mission
- Advocacy for public policy
- Speaking gigs (both getting
engagements & doing the actual speaking)
- Raising money
- Advising on programs / helping with
- Having high profile names
associated with the organization for credibility
- Providing pro bono work to assist
with other staff-driven needs
If you can engage community members
to help with all those tasks, your organization will be able to accomplish
considerably more, and your mission will be stronger throughout the
Step 2: Meetings
The assumption that an advisory group needs to have regular meetings is
just that - an assumption. If what you need is individuals who will get work
done, sometimes that requires convening together, and sometimes it does not.
A task such as including a
heavy-hitters name on your letterhead or having her make a few
well-placed phone calls - that clearly does not require that your heavy-hitter
attend meetings. Other tasks, such as advising on new programs, may absolutely
require meetings. In that case, let those individuals determine how often they
need to meet, based on the tasks at hand.
Then if you feel it would be helpful
to bring ALL your advisors and advocates and ambassadors together once a year
to energize and inspire each other, it will be with a very different
expectation than the need for quarterly meetings simply because you assume the
group has to meet.
Step 3: Set Your
Once you have a list of tasks and at least some
idea of whether and/or how often individuals will need to meet to accomplish
those tasks, you can create a brief job description for each of those roles.
The job description could be as
simple as, We need 10 well-connected people who can make phone calls when
an issue comes before the legislature. Or it could be as complex as,
We need several strategic thinkers to help us plan a new program from
research to implementation with all the details spelled out.
The more clearly you can delineate
your expectations for each job, the more likely you will be to find great
supporters for those roles... and the more likely the job will get
For example, you may note whether
membership in the group will be ongoing or whether you will ask only for a
fixed time commitment. We know you have limited time. Would you be
willing to commit to helping us with fundraising for a year?
You can note whether there will be
regularly scheduled meetings to attend. Or whether advisors are expected to
donate cash to the organization. Whatever your expectations, list them so you
can be clear with prospective advisors right from the start.
Step 4: Recruit!
With a list of tasks and a list of expectations (including expectations
about meetings), you can now recruit specifically for those jobs.
However, you will NOT be asking,
Will you be on our Advisory Board? (more about why later).
What you WILL ask is, Will
you help us with X?
And with that, you will have a group
of advisors / ambassadors / advocates specifically working on each of the tasks
you have listed.
The Biggest Problem with Advisory
If you already have an advisory board, you are probably
thinking, This is all well and good if youre just starting out. But
we already have our Advisory Board. They are already disengaged. They barely
attend our quarterly meetings, and when they do attend, they dont do
anything but sit there and listen to staff reports. They dont volunteer.
They dont do anything!
If that is you, let me be
All the symptoms Advisory Boards
have, including but certainly not limited to those in the opening paragraph of
this article, are rooted in the notion that your group of advisors and
ambassadors and advocates is, in fact, a board.
That group is not a
And the most powerful step you can
take to address your Advisory Board problems is to stop calling it
By calling this loosely fashioned
group of supporters a board, we create a whole slew of expectations
that simply cannot be met.
Your board members may
have expectations that they have some sort of authority (which, of course, they
do not). Or they may know they do not have authority, but believe that as a
board, they should be doing something board-like.
Minutes? Meetings? Those mis-read expectations breed additional expectations,
which eventually become the list of symptoms that began this
Calling it a board
creates expectations for the organizations staff as well. Staff expects
that there should be processes for orientation and nomination. That there
should be term limits, policies. And yes, that there should be meetings. This
then leads to attempts to fix all those perceived board problems.
If we have to have meetings, for example, we need to know what to do at the
meetings - perhaps a report from each of the programs? And again, a spiral
leading to a spiral, all because you called it a board.
Call them teams, councils,
committees, groups. Call them nothing. Call them Task Forces for this or that.
Call them Our Advisors or Our Dream Team. Call them
anything but a board.
Once you have stopped thinking of
those individuals as a singular board, a world of opportunity will
open up. You will find your organization recruiting individual talents for
specific tasks. And you will have begun engaging a group of committed advisors,
ambassadors and advocates who are energized to kick butt on behalf of your
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