You know what they say, it’s lonely at the top. As a founder of a social enterprise, you’re likely to run into your limits sooner or later—and that’s when an advisory board comes in. Support, collaboration, new ideas, and valuable insights are all possible with a kickass advisory board, but half the battle is creating one. With that in mind, here are 8 steps for creating a kickass advisory board.
1. Apply Purpose-Driven Mentality to Your Advisory Board
As a social entrepreneur, you’re driven by purpose, right? Use this same type of mentality to compose your advisory board. What is the purpose of your advisory board? It’s a good idea to hone in on what exactly you want your advisory board to assist with. Are you looking to fill knowledge gaps? Do you want leadership support? Is there a specific goal that you would like to accomplish? Along the way, you’ll encounter different challenges and opportunities, and having an effective advisory board to mitigate challenges and optimize opportunities will help your organisation thrive. You should just be clear on exactly how your advisory board will support you and your mission—and do so before you bring people along.
2. Find Supportive People
There’s no doubt that the social enterprise world is a tough one. Challenges are common, resources are tight, and finances are constantly in flux. To have all of this on top of unruly, unmotivated, or unwilling advisory board members is a recipe for disaster. When you’re recruiting people for your advisory board think about the Four C’s: capacity to participate, group chemistry, no conflicts of interest, and complementary expertise. You’ll be working together on tough decisions, and you don’t want a big ego, competing demands, or poor group dynamic to get in the way of using your limited time effectively. You’ll also want some diversity—different ages, genders, and cultural backgrounds will help to contribute to an advisory board that’s better able to tackle a broad range of issues and come to the table with different experiences and viewpoints.
3. Recruit a Skeptic
Just as important as supportive people is a healthy dose of skepticism. Do you really want a full advisory board of yes people? A little bit of doubt and the confidence to disagree—as long as it has the best interests of the organisation in mind—can go a long way in strengthening your efforts and effectively finding solutions to the problems you’ll encounter. This is why it’s a good idea to have people from diverse backgrounds and careers. You’ll be able to get up objectivity and new perspectives, which can help you and the organisation grow.
4. Keep it Intimate
You know what they say, quality over quantity. While it’s unlikely that you will meet as a group often, when you do things can become complicated with several advisory board members. You obviously want varied perspectives and experiences, but when there are too many competing interests and opinions it may become problematic. A good rule of thumb is to have three to five advisors, with the possibility of adding new advisers once the organization is fully established.
5. Start With Your Network
When looking for advisory board members, it’s a great time to chat with your network and community about the social enterprise you’re planning on starting. Not only does this get the word out about your organisation, but it also creates an opportunity for people to recommend people or offer their help to contribute to your mission. You want people who are genuinely interested in what problem you’re trying to solve, and this is the best way to find people who truly care.
6. Establish Clear Limits
Like with any of your operational efforts, establishing clear limits at the beginning is crucial. You’ll want documented terms of reference that are concise, clear, and well understood by everyone on your advisory board. You want to ensure that everyone is in agreement about the purpose of the board, how long term limits are, how often you’ll be meeting, what remuneration (if any) will look like, and how the information will be shared and stored confidentially.
7. Cultivate a Healthy Culture
Remember that your advisory board members are indeed kickass—and they should be treated as such. They’re a valuable asset to the organisation, but in order for them to contribute the most effective advice and feedback you want to be sure that they’re kept in the loop and provided with any relevant documents before board meetings. Be open and maintain adequate communication between meetings.
8. Don’t Forget to Say Thank You
A simple thank you can go a long way. This is especially true when financial compensation may be small or non-existent. Being polite is absolutely essential when it comes to a thriving and effective advisory board. You want to be sure that your board members feel appreciated and hear from you that they’re contributing to something great. Burnout is common in the social enterprise world—and this goes for advisory board members, too.