An advisory board is a group of people, often experts in a particular profession or area of business, who provide advice to businesses and nonprofits. They have no legal or governing authority, making suggestions to those who do. Serving on a board of directors of a professional association or nonprofit is an excellent way to boost your professional profile, and advisory board service can help you get your foot in the door to a board position.
An advisory board often consists of experts who have experience with a task an organization is undertaking, helping the full-time staff of a board of directors, or the management executives at a business, make better decisions about how to proceed. For example, a trade magazine for plumbers might invite professional plumbers and executives from plumbing supply companies to sit on an advisory board to help guide the editorial direction of the publication. An advisory board of a nonprofit might include experts in a wide variety of disciplines, such as marketing, investing, technology and fundraising, to help the organization’s staff meet its mission.
Individual board members have roles that include setting goals for and overseeing the organization's finances, marketing, meetings, fundraising, website, member recruitment and retention and sponsorship recruitment. Advisory boards work with board and staff members before they take action and provide feedback after activities take place. A magazine or informational website will solicit advice about content from its advisory board, run its proposed annual editorial calendar by the board, ask for suggestions about expert authors, share articles for review and comment before publication and ask for feedback on each issue of the magazine or the online content. A nonprofit might ask its advisory board to meet with a department or committee head to help plan the organization’s annual meeting, review budgets, provide feedback on the organization’s educational programs or help with fundraising. Some advisory boards are largely cosmetic, with an organization getting the ability to put names of high-profile, credible experts on its website or letterhead, and industry professionals getting to tout an official affiliation with a publication, business, trade association or charity.
Advisory boards have no final say in any of the decisions of the organizations they serve. They are simply a group that provides advice. Sometimes, the staff of a business might disagree with the advice of its advisory board and it’s up to the board of directors to make the decision as to which suggestion to follow. Because they have no authority to make decisions or implement plans or policies, advisory board members often have less individual legal exposure if the organization is sued. If an advisory board gives careless or reckless advice or pretends to have expertise it doesn’t, its members might face legal sanctions if an organization follows the board’s recommendations and things turn out badly.
Look for opportunities to serve on advisory boards as a way to boost your professional profile and career opportunities. Advisory board positions are often nonpaid, but serving on an advisory board gives you a chance to get to know an organization before volunteering to serve on a board of directors. You can expand your professional network and might be able to get exposure writing articles, giving talks and attending industry events. Ask for a written job description, an estimate of the monthly hours you’ll need to donate and any dates you’ll need to set aside for meeting attendance.