The legal, governing body of a nonprofit organization is its Board of Directors. In contrast, an Advisory Board does not have any legal, formal responsibilities, but rather is convened by the organization to give advice and support. Here are reasons why some organizations convened an Advisory Board:

-Eucalyptus AIDS Services* has a Board of Directors made up of wealthy, well-connected members. These directors are committed to fundraising, but they are not necessarily in touch with the low- income client population, nor are they experts on AIDS. To meet these needs, this nonprofit group convened an Advisory Board composed of low-income clients, social workers, and medical personnel. The Advisory Board meets four times a year to give input and react to ideas from staff. The last Advisory Board meeting, for example, focused on developing a policy around case management for dual-diagnosed clients.

-The Banyan Asian Artists Co-op* doesn't have its own 501(c)(3) status, but works under the fiscal sponsorship of another organization. Banyan is not separately incorporated, so it can't legally have a
Board of Directors. For that reason, its Advisory Board acts in many of the same roles that a Board of
Directors would, but without the same legal responsibilities. (If the organization ever decides to
incorporate, Advisory Board members will form the Board of Directors.)

-Along with recreational, senior, and housing loan programs, the Manzanita Community Center* has a program called Living with Breast Cancer. Because the organization=s busy Board of Directors can't focus solely on that one program, the program staff wanted a group from the community that could. As a result, they convened an Advisory Board that meets monthly to advise on the Living with Breast Cancer program (but not on matters of finance or personnel).

*Fictitious names

Guidelines for Having Advisory Boards

• Develop a written description of the responsibilities, activities, and limits on authority of the Advisory Board. Include the number of meetings to be held and the length of terms.
• Establish a formal relationship between the Advisory Board and the governing Board, and distinguish between the roles of the two.
• Don't establish an Advisory Board if you can't commit time to prepare for effective meetings, and making the experience meaningful and rewarding for Board members. Some organizations have erred by creating Advisory Boards whose members felt ignored or unnecessary.
• Consider asking a community leader to chair the Advisory Board and act as a spokesperson for the organization in the community.
• Some Advisory Boards never meet, but are vehicles for recognizing individuals who advise the staff and/or the Board of Directors. In this case, make it clear to nominees what their responsibilities are.
(Taken from a BoardCafe newsletter. Their web site is: http://www.boardcafe.org.)

The material in this publication is based on work supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration under cooperative agreement SBAHG-04-S-0001. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Updated May 2006
George Hannye

Key Topics