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 ABN. She is originally from Denver, Colorado and came to Tennessee via UT Knoxville where she graduated from the College of Business. She recently completed her MBA in Leadership at Tiffin University. Before joining ABN, Benson served as Marketing Supervisor for LBMC, PC and was the Director of Operations for the YWCA Knoxville. She is the past President of Young Professionals of Knoxville (YPK) and served as the Curriculum Chair for the Inaugural YPK Leadership Certificate program. Benson serves on the board for the Friends of Literacy, Knoxville Marketing Association and the United Way Young Leaders Society.