5th of a 5 part series:Creating a formal Advisory Committee to involve former Board members

This is the last of a five-part series about keeping former Board members involved in Main Street organizations when their term has ended. The four previous posts dealt with specific assignments that “retiring” Board members can undertake on behalf of the organization to capitalize on their individual skills and relationships in town. This post deals with creating formal committees to capture the knowledge and good will from former Board members on behalf of the local downtown organization. Benefits of formal committees Creating an Advisory Committee or a Past Board Council (as you may wish to call it) for your Main Street organization can be an excellent way to continue to involve former Board members in the current work of the organization.  Some of the obvious benefits for the organization include a regular meeting time to maintain relationships with these long-term supporters. They can provide advice as needed and continue as part of the Main Street team. Ideally the names of Past Board Council members should appear on your web site or perhaps on your letter head to honor the continued involvement of these committed men and women to the local Main Street organization.

 Formal or a temporary committee? If you chose to establish a formal Advisory Committee, it should be organized as a standing committee of the organization as noted in the bylaws. Another alternative is a temporary or ad hoc committee, called into existence by the Board Chairperson. Create a charter for a formal committee If you choose to create a formal or standing committee, it needs a brief written charter from the Board that sets out the purpose of the Advisory Committee, its role, membership criteria, term limits, and if the organization has any formal relationship with the Board itself. You may wish to have the chair of the Advisory Committee have a permanent seat on your Board or perhaps even the Executive Committee to retain organizational memory and close ties. Be clear, and do not call this an Advisory “Board,” as that title might be perceived as having some kind of authority. Advisory Committees provide advice only, which the current Board is free to take (or not) as it sees fit.  Advisory Committees have no legal responsibilities.

 Past Board Councils or Advisory Committees often meet quarterly.  You might wish to extend eligibility to any Board member who has served an entire elected (rather than appointed) three-year term. The Main Street Board chair person can choose the Advisory Committee chair, or the Advisory Committee can choose their own chairperson. The charter creating your Main Street Advisory Committee should be specific about whether Advisory Committee members are permitted to sit in (with no vote) at Board meetings, and how they are recognized (if at all) at the annual meeting. Most Main Street Advisory Committees I have encountered are non-voting entities. Some have a Board liaison to assure good communication back and forth. This is an ideal role for the Vice President, especially if the Vice President is formally or informally preparing to become the next president of your organization.

 What can an Advisory Committee really do? A Past Board Council or Advisory Committee can supplement the work of the Board or any committee, if they agree to take on specific work plan items each year. This is an ideal situation, because work plans provide a means to measure performance and promote accountability.  If your Advisory Committee would rather just provide advice, their meeting agendas need to be carefully constructed so that the Advisory Committee does not become “window dressing” for already made decisions. This will waste the time of the Advisory Committee members and lead to quick abandonment of the committee. For past Board members, these committees give them the freedom to come and go, as attendance requirements are not as strict as being on the organization’s Board of Directors.  Formal committees can provide a formal means for concerns of former Board members to be heard by staff and the current Board liaison. Typically, Advisory Committees are used for feedback and “rumor control” by the Board. They also can become an organization’s conscience: to remind the Board if it is going “off track” or taking on projects not central to the downtown mission.

 How will it really work? Before embarking to establish a formal Advisory Committee, think long and hard about who will actually manage the meetings, set agendas, send minutes, and provide oversight.  If this work falls to staff, it may be viewed as just one more task in already overstretched workday.

 Another option could be to give oversight of the Advisory Committee to the Organization Committee, who will take charge of calling meetings and setting the agenda with the Advisory Committee chair. This makes the most sense to me, because Organization Committee members already understand the importance of nurturing and acknowledging volunteers and working with high-end donors to the organization.  This committee would understand the value of the prior service made by former Board members and be willing to adequately celebrate and honor their involvement.

 Meaningful projects promote meaningful involvement Whether your Main Street organization seeks to continue to involve former Board members by asking them to take on individual assignments or through a formal committee, I hope you will make their projects meaningful.  These Board members have already given substantial sums and months of hard work over many years to your downtown organization. They will be attracted to serve again because of their pride in the many accomplishments of the whole organization.  Board alumni are great gifts that Main Street organizations can put to work on real projects of great importance. This information was developed for a training session called “Keeping Former Board Members Involved When their Term is Done.” Please contact us if you wish to know more about training or consulting available for your organization.