Members matter in advisory groups

Intentional advisory group composition contributes to success.

Many community-based and non-profit organizations utilize advisory groups, boards or committees to guide the organizational mission and to keep that mission grounded in community needs. Michigan State University Extension utilizes advisory groups across many programs including Michigan 4-H Youth Development. Whatever the organization, it can be easy for existing group members to overlook the important role they play in recruitment of the right volunteers to keep the board healthy and engaged. Consider these strategies:

  • Reflect the community. The best advisory groups will reflect the community it is attempting to serve. If the organization serves a specific neighborhood, members should reside in that neighborhood. If an organization serves an entire county or state, the membership should reflect the diversity of that entire locale. Committee member diversity representative of the broader community assures that all viewpoints are considered.
  • Capitalize on generations. Membership from a broad age range brings depth to discussions and areas of expertise. Older members of groups can provide deep institutional and community knowledge while younger members can provide expertise on technology and trends. Youth-adult partnerships that engage youth as equal decision-makers at the table can bring vibrancy to organizations and develop important life and leadership skills in youth.
  • Vary the scope of organizational knowledge. It’s easy to ask the most committed and engaged organizational volunteers to take on a role with an advisory group. These dedicated volunteers bring their own experiences with the organization to the table and are often some of the best advisory group work horses. Taking a moment to think beyond the organizations walls and recruiting volunteers from the broader community can pay enormous dividends. These individuals might have a great deal of respect for the organization while also maintaining other important ties in the community that can lead to new partnerships. These volunteers also bring a clear perspective, not clouded by their personal experiences that can bring important light to organizational approaches.
  • Too familial? Families who volunteer together are a wonderful opportunity to expose a younger generation to concepts of altruism and community service. Too much of a good thing can be detrimental to advisory groups. Husbands and wives, parents and children, and even extended family connections can create awkward conversations with advisory groups. Outside observers can accuse a single family of running the program or organization and advisory groups run the risk of nepotism getting in the way of fair, democratic elections. A single family emergency can easily cripple the success of an advisory group comprised of multiple members from the same family. A simple statement in a group’s bylaws outlining policies related to families serving on the same advisory group can eliminate many headaches down the road.
  • Limit terms of service. Term limits come with their own set of pros and cons, but putting an intentional pause on an advisory group members term forces group members to recruit new members which leads to more invested individuals in the organization. Even the best advisory group members need a reason to take a break, freeing up time to devote to different projects that may still benefit the organization. Term limits can also be spelled out in an organization’s bylaws.

These tips demonstrate that recruitment for advisory group members should be more intentional than hanging a poster on the wall or sending a broadcast email to an entire mailing list. A personal invitation to a loosely tied individual can result in countless organizational benefits. 

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