Advisory Groups: Fundraising’s Flux Capacitors

By: W. Milton Key, Jr., Partner

In recent days, many of us were reminded of the pop culture significance of October 21, 2015, as the destination date for Marty McFly and Doc Emmett Brown, in the film Back To The Future II.

Whether it’s time travel or the search for resources to sustain and grow our missions, we are always on the lookout for a flux capacitor of sorts, aren’t we?  Imagine a fundraising version of the film, in which Executive Director Doc Brown and Development Director Marty McFly are searching for answers to vexing dilemmas such as:

“How can we get that person to become engaged with us?  They are a community leader and they know so many people who could be helpful.”

“We could sure use that person’s counsel on this strategic matter.”

“We need more donors who can give at major gift or leadership annual gift levels.”

 Alas, there is not yet a flux capacitor to solve such needs; however, if these types of questions and concerns sound familiar, it may be time to consider organizing a group of volunteers that can provide counsel, contacts and currency; ideally, as an enhancement to that which your board provides.

These groups go by different names – advisory board, advisory council and board of visitors are typical – but, they share a common purpose of serving as an extension of Development or Advancement, by advancing the mission and goals of an organization.  In some ways, these groups often resemble a board of directors/trustees; however, advisory groups have no legal, fiduciary or policy-making authority.

As goodwill ambassadors, they share the impact and needs of an organization among their circles of influence.  Also, they provide valuable feedback to leadership about what they are hearing from peers about an organization.  Ultimately, they help connect an organization with new friends, where interest is developed – perhaps through an event benefitting or hosted by an organization or an individual audience with organizational leadership.

As counsel, these volunteers are consulted on matters of strategic value to the organization – individually and/or collectively – based on their knowledge and expertise as business and community leaders.  In matters of growth, anticipating or reacting to significant change, marketing and other high-level challenges, an advisory group can be an invaluable resource to staff and board leadership.

What is the profile of an ideal advisory group member?  The adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” certainly applies.  More precisely, the strongest advisory volunteer will most likely be:

  1. Recognized by others as a wise and effective community or business leader;
  2. Active in circles of influence that represent new opportunities for the organization to be known;
  3. An expert in a field related to the mission of the organization or the effective execution of the mission;
  4. Accessible on an as-needed basis and available to attend one or two meetings of the advisory group, annually; and,
  5. A current donor or be willing to become a donor, as he/she becomes more familiar with the organization.

As with everything else in our field, planning and execution makes the difference.  Consider these factors:

  1. Determine who’s going to recruit the volunteers (CEO, board chair, development/advancement committee chair, other leader)
  2. Determine who’s going to staff the advisory group, including plan and organize the meetings; make sure they receive routine communication; and, follow up on their leads and needs.
  3. Determine the size and expectations of the group, based on the resources available to support it. Start small and grow as success and opportunity warrants.

Institutions and organizations of all sizes and types benefit from advisory groups.  When well executed, these groups can and usually do serve organizations beyond the stated purpose, especially as incubators for future board members, campaign leaders, major gift donors, and strategic partners.

It’s enough to make Doc exclaim, “Great Scott!”