Should I start an advisory board, and if so, how?
October 1, 2014 11:54 PM   Subscribe

I run an annual, for profit, weekend long event drawing thousands of attendees, with dozens of sponsors, volunteers, and vendors. Just past our second year, the event is already a success, and growing rapidly. A few sponsors and other coordinators have expressed interest in being on an advisory board, which sounds great, but I have no experience being part of or running. My question is, how would I evaluate the need for this, what functions would an advisory board have, and what resources are available to learn how to build and manage one?
posted by Unsomnambulist to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You're in luck! There are consulting firms out there that will help you with all of this!

But from the questions you're asking, it sounds like you want an Advisory Board simply so you can say you have an Advisory Board. How much money are you willing to spend on this?

If it was me - and I had a number of people who wanted to sit on the Advisory Board - I'd monetize it and offer positions to various people for $X in annual dues. Basically, it's an ego thing / c.v. line item.

Last thing: make sure that all of the paperwork states clearly that the Advisory Board's decisions are non-binding. Ie, you can ignore them.
posted by doctor tough love at 4:24 AM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you want to be advised?
posted by smackfu at 5:00 AM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Unless you want other people telling you what to do, I would run quickly in the opposite direction.

If you think you can shake people down on the "advisory board" such as more sponsorship money, or contributions of swag, then you can do it.

Mostly it is an ego thing and people who are attracted to ego things are not necessarily people you want to interact with and then be forced to consider their advice.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:26 AM on October 2, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Just as a different view, there is a conference in my sector and I suggested to the organiser with whom I have a relationship that they create an advisory board. Why? Because they need advice. You may think everything is grand because your conference is successful, but perhaps there are things people around your conference would like you to address but for which no mechanism exists.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:05 AM on October 2, 2014

Best answer: In my experience, I have worked with two types of advisory boards, that fall on the spectrum of the many, many shapes advisory boards can take.
1) Brought out 2-4 a year, to meet and discuss a project or center. Can be like a board of trustees in some ways. They get to have some input, and then get thanked for their advice (eg, a dinner, or a lunch). Often about the name association, for both parties.
2) Help conceptualize a project. Get brought in during early and mid planning. Get lots of input. Usually still a good reputation, and especially helpful in establishing connections.

Personally, in your situation, I would see if you could go and talk to any of these potentials and see what kind of relationship they are hoping for. Then you can start seeing what kind of advisory works for you.
And make sure that whatever your advisory group looks like, you have it written how it functions, like doctor tough love suggested!

Congrats on the great event!
posted by troytroy at 6:15 AM on October 2, 2014

Best answer: Yeah, people might might be offering their involvement because they like the event and see ways it could be improved. Ask them about that. Ask them how they think an Advisory Board could add to the quality or success of event. The board would need a Terms of Reference document (google it) that would lay out what the scope and role of the board would be (ie , what aspects of the event they are advising on, term limits , non-binding recommendations, etc). Be open to considering the idea at least. Then accept or decline the suggestion as you wish.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:27 AM on October 2, 2014

Best answer: Re: the advisability of getting advice: Even if the event is a success now, there are risks. If the event depends on just a few wonderful people coordinating everything, they could burn out, or even move away, get sick, or decide to retire or focus on their families. If the event is growing, there are even more risks. Your potential advisors may or may not be able to help you with this. I would recommend selecting them carefully, if you can, but more help, and help at a different frame of reference, is not necessarily redundant if you are currently successful.
posted by amtho at 7:50 AM on October 2, 2014

Best answer: I am on the board of directors of a festival. We don't have sponsors or vendors (it's a burn event). It's all volunteer-run (myself included), so we have a lot of volunteers. Because it is all volunteer-run, there are a lot of people that feel they have an ownership stake in the event.

We do have an advisory body (I previously served on that). It's kind of a pain in the ass, but it is useful.

Our board-of-directors meetings are closed. Our advisory-body meetings are open to the public. So they provide transparency. We always have an "LLC update" as a part of every advisory-body meeting. The meetings are useful for taking the pulse of the community. The board of directors won't be bound by advisory-body recommendations, but we won't ignore them either. If the advisory body ever recommended something that we knew we couldn't do (for legal or liability reasons, say), we would know that we needed to do a better job explaining why we couldn't do that thing. The meetings also provide a way for the board to disseminate information to the community.

Why is it a pain in the ass? The meetings can be long. Sometimes people like to hear themselves talk. The members of the advisory body aren't assigned any specific responsibilities for any specific tasks, so things can go un-done. It's a consensus-based body, so one person can hold things up (though this has been rare). On the other hand, the advisory body selects its own members from nominations in the community (people can and do nominate themselves), and generally does a good job of recruiting people with a diversity of viewpoints. In my experience, the people who serve on the advisory body are not there for personal aggrandizement or to push an agenda, but we may have been lucky.

Since you're talking about a for-profit event, you are dealing with stakeholders who can have wildly divergent agendas. I can't offer any advice on that. But feel free to MeMail me if you want.
posted by adamrice at 8:41 AM on October 2, 2014

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