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Key factors to creating effective advisory boards or councils

December 14, 2023

Kerri Carlyon

Director of Development, Stetson University

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

Advisory boards and councils are often comprised of some of a college or university’s best donors and advocates. The purpose of advisory boards is to provide advocacy for the institution, feedback and advice on important issues, and assistance in building resources either through fundraising or through building connections. If managed and utilized properly, they can be an impactful resource for an institution. However, an unfulfilling board experience can be a detriment and lead to disengagement.

In my experience as director of development and assisting a dean with facilitating an advisory board, I have identified four key factors that play a vital role in creating a positive and valuable board member experience.

1. Articulate the board’s mission and roles and responsibilities

Be clear and upfront about the mission of the board through a strong organizational document. It is important for members to know that advisory boards don’t have governing authority and are advisory in nature. Outline the roles and responsibilities of board members in a job description and include a volunteer contract that requires a signature of understanding. Be sure to include any important university statements for volunteer conduct. Once a member agrees to the role, an effective onboarding process is important to setting the stage for a positive experience and setting the proper expectations.

2. Create purposeful meeting agendas

It is important to align your agenda items with the strategic priorities of the unit and/or the institution. This will help educate your board to be better advocates and understand the priorities. Board meeting agendas need to have the right balance of providing important institutional updates and information and utilizing the board’s expertise to help provide advice and feedback on important issues. I suggest having the dean identify an issue to address in faculty-led breakout sessions. Be sure to include interactive aspects with students as well.

3. Create experiential opportunities

For board members to get the best experience, create opportunities for them to engage (outside of the board meeting) that align with their area of expertise or affinity. It needs to be mutually beneficial. For example, you could have an attorney serve as a practice judge for the mock trial team scrimmage or have a board member in the healthcare field serve on a pre-health symposium panel advising students on various career paths.

4. Implement advisory board assessment and metrics

It is important to regularly evaluate board member satisfaction and the effectiveness of achieving the board’s mission. I suggest surveying members annually and trying to schedule one-on-one meetings with the dean to discuss the board experience at least once during their time of service. Establish metrics that will help you evaluate the effectiveness of the board. Some metrics to consider are board meeting attendance, engagement interactions outside of board meetings, and philanthropy in relation to board participation.

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Advisory boards and councils are a great resource for an institution, but it is important to have the proper structure, processes, and strategy in place first. If not, an unfulfilling board member experience can work against the purpose of building engagement and philanthropy.

The Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship has been an incredible opportunity for professional growth and development. The EAB experts presented on relevant topics and issues across the higher ed spectrum. The knowledge and understanding I gained throughout the fellowship will help me better serve my institution moving forward. In addition, the capstone project was a great opportunity to address a challenge the university is facing and find a solution with the help of expert advice from EAB resources.

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