Building an Effective Stakeholder Advisory Board

3 min read

At Prosper Strategies, we believe in co-creating change. This means rather than prescribing solutions to the challenges faced by a group or community, we advocate for seeking input from those our work impacts and using that input to guide important decisions.

There are three main ways to do this:

  • You can include individuals who are representative of the people and communities you serve on your governing board.
  • You can tap external stakeholders on an as-needed basis for feedback on work in progress.
  • You can build an advisory board of external stakeholders and meet regularly (at least twice per year) to get their input and feedback on work in progress. 

Today, I’m going to focus on this third option, building a stakeholder advisory board. However, before diving into the heart of the subject, it’s worth noting that advisory boards aren’t particularly rare in the nonprofit world, and they aren’t always developed for stakeholder input. Some organizations create them for fundraising purposes, others create them as a way to engage individuals who can’t or won’t commit to joining their governing board. For example, a state legislator or a well-known philanthropist might be listed on an organization’s advisory board. And many times, these boards are more for optics than anything else.

A stakeholder advisory board, on the other hand, is made up of your organization’s most important stakeholders, and it’s meant to exist as a mechanism for input and insight on your nonprofit’s strategic initiatives.

A stakeholder advisory board is made up of your organization's most important stakeholders, and it's meant to exist as a mechanism for input and insight on your nonprofit's strategic initiatives. Click To Tweet

What is a stakeholder advisory board?

A typical stakeholder advisory board might include members of your board of directors or members of your staff, but more often than not, it’s made up of individuals outside of your organization. This includes funders, community partners, and, most importantly, individuals who your nonprofit exists to serve. 

What does your stakeholder advisory board do?

Your advisory board is not a voting board. Its members have a voice in your organization, but they don’t have a vote. It exists for two primary reasons:

  • External perspective – members of your stakeholder advisory board provide outside, community perspective on your strategic initiatives.
  • Lived experience – members of your stakeholder advisory board provide perspective on your strategic initiatives through the lens of those you exist to serve.

When do you need a stakeholder advisory board?

While it’s not a bad idea to have a permanent stakeholder advisory board that meets as frequently as quarterly, but no less frequently than twice a year, it’s essential to have one when your organization is engaging in a significant strategic effort. 

Natural times to consider the creation of a stakeholder advisory board include when your nonprofit is developing a new strategic plan, conducting a feasibility study or capital campaign, rebranding or making programmatic shifts. In each of these scenarios, we recommend identifying strategic checkpoints where you’d like to convene your stakeholder advisory board for outside insights. This ensures you’re getting diverse perspectives on your work, and in particular, you’re hearing from the people who you exist to serve. 

While stakeholder advisory boards are one of the ways to glean important outside insight on your initiatives, other tactics like stakeholder interviews, surveys and focus groups can work well, too. 

Equity Resources for Nonprofit Communicators & Fundraisers

We know actions speak louder than words, and that’s never felt truer than it does today. But that said, the way you develop your strategies and communicate about your nonprofit’s initiatives and commitments surrounding racial justice DOES matter — these are vehicles through which nonprofits can lead by example.

We must keep the conversation going and use our platforms to amplify marginalized voices and advance racial justice. Here we’ve compiled some of our go-to resources you can use for help. Check out our equity resources for nonprofit communicators and fundraisers.

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