Advisory Boards – Best Practices for Activation and Outreach


Invisible threads are the strongest ties.

Seth Godin has written more than a dozen best-selling books and has spoken at the world’s top leadership conferences.  One of his most influential books on leadership is titled “Tribes: We need you to lead us.”  The book is about connecting with others and leading the group towards a common cause.  It could be a corporate or charitable cause, a fundraising drive, or one to combat global warming.  The theory is that a tribe exists (known or unknown) that wants to be bound together and led toward a common goal.

In our work with sports destinations, non-profits, and governing bodies, our clients often ask us if they should start an advisory board.  Or for those that already have them, we get asked for best practices to engage them more effectively.  The answer on both fronts is “it depends” as every organization is different.  Assuming you want more community involvement or want to invigorate your existing advisory group, here are six best practices we have found to engage your tribes:

  1. Networking events – Hosting regularly scheduled networking events (quarterly or bi-monthly) are a great way to re-connect with your constituents.  If you are going for a more formal meeting setting, we recommend a continental breakfast or coffee time meeting at a hotel or business that supports the organization.  If you have a larger group that is membership based with less official authority over your organization, a post-work happy hour event may be best.  In both cases, keep the agenda brief.  Give a five minute update of your activities at the beginning then open the meeting for the attendees to interact and give feedback.  Always provide time for the attendees to interact with each other.  By providing a forum for your supporters to ask questions and offer their insights you will engage them and make them feel like they are part of the team.
  2. Host a “signing party” – This one is especially good for host cities to engage your hospitality community members.  Upon the announcement of a big event, bring in the rights holder or national governing body leader to officially “sign” the contract for the event.  Invite your hoteliers, restaurateurs, and your advisory group to attend the event and ask the Mayor to make a proclamation making it “XYZ Rights Holder Day in Your Town, USA.”  Have the rights holder and the Board Chair actually sign a ceremonial document and present the document to the Mayor.  Even if (especially if) your advisory group doesn’t have a lot of hospitality industry involvement, this is a great way to bring them into the fold.
  3. Awards – Everyone likes getting awards.  Most destinations have an annual awards luncheon to recognize people in the community that have helped increase tourism.  We recommend also including those that support the hosting of events as well.  Give an award to the top sports hotel, the number one rights holder for the year, top restaurant, best rental car agency.  You know that rights holder that made the big issues small and put on a great championship in your town?  How about the hotel that put up the gobo light in the lobby with the event logo shining bright?  And the restaurant whose servers wore the event’s pins and t-shirts all week?  Rights holders, how about that city that put on a world class championship on your behalf with hundreds of volunteers and great airport signage?  Give them awards.  Let them know that they are special and that they made a difference.  They will repay you (again) in the future.
  4. Speakers – As a rights holder or a host city, you of course want to promote your upcoming events.  As a big event approaches, put together a social gathering of the advisory board where the rights holder gives a presentation about the event.  Include what the community should expect, unique facts about the competition, economic impact, media reach, etc.  Educating community leaders by inviting them to a special presentation will make them feel like they have the inside scoop on the event and you will ultimately garner more engagement from them.
  5. Projects – Give the advisory board or committee a specific project.  It has to be something that can be completed in a set period of time and has a specific goal to achieve (think SMART goals).  This can be assigning the execution of a fundraiser to the group, asking them to create and run a speakers bureau for the organization, or to build a volunteer database to use in hosting events.  Whatever it is, make it specific, assign a deadline, a goal, and turn them loose.
  6. Holiday parties – It’s common for organizations to host a board holiday party or open house event.  As time becomes more valuable during the holidays where family and work times collide, we recommend going one better.  Try merging your annual awards event (or the signing party concept above) with your holiday party.  This will differentiate your holiday party from the hundreds of others your constituents will be invited to attend, all while providing a very festive, and different, end of year celebration.

When we are asked by our clients about advisory boards, we respond with a question: “What is it that you want from them?”  If we can answer that question, we can work together to build a game plan to engage the group in a meaningful way.  In a way to propel them towards goals that will help the organization thrive.  Advisory boards take a lot of time and energy to manage.  They can be frustrating and sometimes disruptive.  However, if given direction, and when communicated with effectively, they can be a very powerful resource to your organization.  The next time you plan an advisory board meeting, ask yourself: “What do I want from them?”  Answer that first, then build a plan that will engage them to lead themselves to that destination.


Check out Seth Godin’s speech at the 2009 TED Conference.  It’s about leading Tribes and has some sports references.  It’s a great 17 minutes and 27 seconds.  If you have not read his book “Tribes” it is a game changer for leadership.  Get it at Amazon, or ping me and you can borrow mine.