An advisory board is an informal committee arranged by organization’s executive team or board of directors. The advisory board strategizes and assists the organization, but has no fiduciary role. As opposed to other non-profits, a non-governmental organization (NGO) provides expertise to other organizations, monitors environmental issues, and supports humanitarian efforts.
A strong advisory board is essential for an effective NGO, and it is imperative that an executive director work in perfect synchronization with the whole board. This requires some strategic organization and clearly defined objectives. Below are some best practices for maintaining a healthy NGO advisory board.
A good way to ensure that members are aware of their responsibilities and limitations is to develop a brief document that clearly outlines each member’s role. This can be distributed to new board members, sent via email to the whole board from time to time, and stored in a board management system [LINK TO SIGN UP FOR TRIAL] that is easy for members to access.
The best way to facilitate movement in an NGO is to document each action taken and new direction set by the advisory board. In addition to documenting activity, the board should regularly review action items together and set benchmarks for upcoming decisions.
Once the board creates a strategic plan or sets a new direction, the responsibility is passed to the staff to translate it into an organizational plan. Because the staff does not attend board meetings, it’s critical that these items are outlined very clearly. This information can be safely stored in a board management system, with specific drafts available to select individuals.
It is just as common for board members to take on too much responsibility as too little. This can happen because there is no clear outline of responsibilities or no prioritization of items to be discussed at a meeting. Members might spend energy considering issues that are only loosely relevant, and could instead have been taking action on something more important.
Make sure that key influencers on the board are consistently updated on the most important items. At least three days before each meeting, send out relevant documents or updates to the whole board, and keep in contact with any members who have a more significant responsibility to any items being discussed. This can be done in email form, through calendar updates, and via a chat platform.
Outside counsel should be hired for any complex or critical issues that the board faces. Even executive directors may hold personal biases towards specific members that will affect the decision-making process. Hiring an unbiased third-party helps the board to neutrally navigate all sides of an issue and come to a more balanced result.
Facilitators can be used in many situations, even those that are not urgent. For example, a facilitator could help to arrange important occasions like a board retreat or large-scale event. Facilitators should not become involved in too many operations, however. If the facilitator is taking on a lot of responsibility, it may be a sign of a weak board.
Keeping an NGO advisory board focused is a huge responsibility, but it need not be difficult. A well-prepared executive director can follow a few guidelines and set up a system that allows them to manage routine operations with a light hand.