In our consulting work with CVBs and sports commissions we are often asked about the use of advisory boards. More specifically, our team is commonly tasked with restructuring an existing advisory group that isn’t adding a lot of value to the primary organization. Underutilized advisory boards are so common, that we offer below some best practices in getting the most out of these volunteer groups. Here are the three most common issues that we find in underperforming advisory boards, and how to handle them…..
1. Lack of a Defined Role – The initial intent of advisory boards is often to engage a segment of the community to assist in your organization’s sports tourism or event efforts. However, if the volunteers that are recruited to support your efforts are not given a specific task and the means/support to achieve their goals, they often become inefficient, and in most cases, dormant. If you have an advisory board and their meetings have tuned into reporting sessions from staff to the board, it’s likely that your advisory group doesn’t know how they can add value. When revamping or creating an advisory board, be very specific as to what you are asking of them. Keep it simple so they can easily remember and communicate to others what their roles are on the organization’s behalf. We recommend limiting the advisory board’s roles to no more than three focus areas. Examples could be: (1) fundraising, (2) community promotion, and (3) gaining support from area elected officials. The simpler their role, the more likely the advisory board members can deliver the goods.
2. Insufficient Support – Even if the advisory board has defined goals, the group will also need resources to achieve its mission. This likely would include staff support to follow through on leads or to provide timely information where needed. It could also include financial resources to purchase assets or invest in a new program or concept. Similar to a sponsorship where you want to allow for funds to activate the sponsorship itself, you have to budget resources to be available to the advisory board to spark their work. We recommend that when you budget time and funds for advisory board meetings (such as a quarterly lunch), also be sure to budget an additional amount to use when the board opens the door to a key opportunity for your organization.
3. Lack of Consistency in Communication – In nearly every case where we find a disjointed advisory board, the lines of communication between the CVB/sports commission and the advisory group have been broken. That is, there are not routine and regularly scheduled platforms for communication in place such as a quarterly meeting, or a monthly e-mail update. It is critical to have a regularly scheduled outreach program with your key volunteers. Without one, they will likely spend their time and resources elsewhere. Further, where solid communication practices are in place, be sure to use those touch points to point out what success looks like for the advisory group. As an example, if the advisory board’s primary goal is to generate new sponsorships, you could use your quarterly lunch meeting to thank an advisory board member for landing a new $5,000 partnership from the XYZ Corporation. The more they can see what success looks like, the more likely they are to effectively support your organization.
These three issues are the most prevalent we encounter when dealing with existing advisory boards. They are also the three things you should avoid when creating a new advisory group in the future. Give them a specific task, support their work, and regularly communicate what success looks like. Do these things and our advisory board members will become staunch advocates for the work of you and your organization in the future.