What is an Advisory Board? Should You Have One?

Ronni Chandler, Executive Director of Project GRAD Knoxville, and David Williams, Scout Executive/CEO of the Great Smoky Mountain Council, Boy Scouts of America, served as panelists for our roundtable discussion held February 1, 2017 on the myths and truths around nonprofit advisory boards. Advisory boards can be great advocates or a burden – it’s all about developing the group effectively. We learned that there isn’t just “one way” to create and utilize an advisory board.

Guiding food for thought:

  • Start with a needs assessment. Why do you want to have an advisory board? What is the purpose?
  • Develop clear expectations, such as monetary and time commitments.
  • Make sure whoever asks your potential advisory member to participate is someone on their same level. You want a Peyton Manning? You better send Coach Fulmer in to make “the ask.”
  • Call it something more engaging than “advisory board” – Community Engagement Committee, NeedAdvisoryBoard_horiz2016.pngStrategy Board, etc.
  • Define who is responsible for the management of the advisory committee. Is it staff, the executive director, a governing board member, or a past-president?
  • Make sure there is a clear understanding of the differences between the governing board and the advisory board, as power struggles can happen very easily.

Creative structures for advisory boards:

  • Use an advisory board to groom future board members. Engage middle-level managers by building organizational knowledge and see if they will fit the governing board’s needs.
  • Create a committee of stakeholders to gather advice and feedback around programming.
  • Dedicate your advisory board to a specific project, such as a capital campaign, a fundraising event, a needs assessment, etc.
  • Use the group for advocacy to advance the organization’s mission and raise awareness.
  • Engage high-level influential individuals to lend credibility to the organization.

Additional resources:





385 Elle Benson is the Director of Capacity Building for the Alliance for Better Nonprofits (ABN), East Tennessee’s nonprofit resource center. She oversees the educational development and consulting practices at ABN. Elle brought ten years of nonprofit and business consulting experience into assisting in the creation of ABN. Her nonprofit experience includes fundraising, nonprofit program development, nonprofit and corporate marketing, human resources, board governance, and strategic planning. She holds a certification in board governance from BoardSource, a global network advancing board governance practices. She also has a certificate in group facilitation. She earned a business degree from the Haslam College of Business, and she completed her MBA in leadership and organizational change at Tiffin University. She currently teaches nonprofit management for the University of Tennessee Non-Credit Programs. Elle enjoys being involved in the community, having served on eight nonprofit boards. She is currently serving on boards and committees for the Association of Infant Mental Health in Tennessee, Friends of Literacy, United Way of Greater Knoxville, and Young Professionals of Knoxville.