Who Owns Your Advisory Board?

Advisory boards can serve as the engine of a powerful CTE program or they can be an inconvenient obligation. They are what you make of them: The effort you put into them determines what you get out of them.

Except that’s not really true. You can put tremendous energy and countless hours into your board, but if it’s not set up effectively you won’t see much reward for your investment. It turns out that what you do, and how you do it, matter just as much – maybe even more – than how much you do.

Which leads to a very simple, but foundationally important question: Who owns your advisory board?

In too many cases, the program lead retains control of his or her advisory board by inviting members, setting goals, determining agendas, and running meetings. You might feel like you’re trying to take care of your business members, keeping their burden light. But what you’re really doing is denying them any ownership of the board or your program. As a result, they’ll feel (probably correctly) that they’re supposed to be passive observers, staying informed but not really having a voice.

Most effective advisory boards are owned by their business partners. That doesn’t mean they run your program – this is an advisory board, after all, not a deciding board – but it does mean that they are empowered to fulfill their role as guides and supporters of a program that is very important to them. Business people who own your board will take the lead on recruiting board members and business partners, setting ambitious goals, and playing the “critical friend” role which is so important in helping your program be the best it can be.

If you’re not sure who owns your board, ask yourself:

  • Who is the chair?
  • Who recruits new board members?
  • Who sets and distributes the agenda?
  • Who controls other board communications?
  • Who is authorized to create new committees?
  • Who actually runs the board meetings?

The answers to those questions will tell you who really owns your board. If it’s not a business leader, give some serious thought as to whether your board members are making the kind of contribution to your program that you need. If they’re not, put a business partner in charge – really in charge – and see what a difference that can make.

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education

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