Using Advisory Committees to Support Your Board

Nonprofit organizations have a decent amount of flexibility in how they are structured in terms of the board and advisory committees. Some organizations want a small board intentionally, while others struggle to recruit enough volunteers to fill their board. For many nonprofits, especially smaller startup organizations, serving on a board role can require a significant time commitment.

Here are four scenarios where advisory committees can be extremely helpful for an organization.

Allow for lighter commitments

The beauty of advisory committees is that it’s a shorter-term commitment overall, and thus it can be easier to recruit people to serve in that role. Advisory committees don’t have voting rights and can’t govern the organization, but they can present recommendations to the board.

Sometimes certain individuals don’t want to take on the responsibility or potential liability that comes with serving on the board and voting. That’s another great place to use an advisory committee to tap into their knowledge without creating the board level of risk for that individual.

Engage historical knowledge or key skillsets

Term limits are an important best practice for nonprofit organizations. It’s not good for the organization to have a board that’s full of people who’ve been there since the beginning. You need some fresh faces, new ideas, and renewed energy periodically.

But sometimes you have key people with extensive knowledge of the organization’s history or with a critical skillset that you still want to retain in some way. Those people can fill a past director advisory committee and still contribute while someone else fills the board seat.

Recruit youth members when needed

Legally, you must be 18 years old to serve on a nonprofit board. But what about organizations that are focused on serving youth? How do they engage youth in the discussion? This is another place where an advisory committee can be impactful. The youth can meet to discuss the issues and then present their recommendations to the board for consideration.

Balance family relationships on a board

There are a lot of nonprofits born from a family’s passion about a particular issue. But when it comes to nonprofit boards, there’s always the issue of nepotism. It’s generally a bad practice to have people who are related, either in the same family or from the same business, on your board. In either case, the IRS sees them legally as one person, so it can create some conflict about whether they’re one vote or two.

The better practice is to put one family member on the board and then the remainder on an advisory committee. That allows them to still contribute to the cause and be involved in board meetings, but they’re not legally voting and governing the organization.

When it comes to creating advisory committees, they can be for a broad general purpose or more focused on a particular need, such as fundraising, programming, or purchasing a building. If you have a major project, it’s a great idea to create an advisory committee who can work on the little details and report back to the board regularly with their progress. It’s a helpful way to delegate duties and share the work for a large project or even some of the regular needs of the organization.

By spreading some of the work to advisory committees, you also take some of the weight off of the board, which helps reduce board burnout over time. Whether you have a small board or a large board, advisory committees are a great asset to help you accomplish your goals.

Need help with structuring committees to support your board? Contact us today for more information.

Alexandra Bliss