Pete Pomilio, MBA, is director of association management services at Triad Strategies in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Corporate advisory boards are made up of sponsors, generate revenue, and tackle important projects or goals for your association, profession, or trade community. This primer can help you determine if such a board would be a good fit for your association.
Many associations prohibit or limit the number of sponsors or industry partners who can participate in volunteer leadership or serve as board members due to valid concerns of solicitation or bias. However, associations are missing out on a segment of volunteers who are aligned with their mission, bring different perspectives and skillsets, and are motivated to see the association and the field it represents grow. That’s why creating a corporate advisory board could be a win-win: It offers an outlet to these volunteers and provides a new revenue source.
However, before starting a corporate advisory board, it is important to define the purpose of the group. An effective advisory board will generate revenue and help advance the association’s mission and goals. For those considering a corporate advisory board, here are some key factors to think about:
Board makeup. Determine who you want represented on the board. This will most likely be your top sponsors who are influential in the field. They have the most knowledge and the most to gain from a successful board. Allow one or two people per company to promote an equal voice in meetings. You may also want to include your association’s board members and/or experts to help contribute based on the projects selected. The chair should also be a volunteer.
The corporate advisory board I helped a medical association create was able to raise six figures and complete its project goal. This type of success is possible for your organization, if you plan appropriately and provide a forum for your corporate partners to contribute.
Pricing model. Corporate companies will need to pay a fee to join the board. You will want to make the cost low enough to be attractive, but high enough to dissuade every exhibitor from participating. I’d suggest shooting for a range of 10 to 20 participants. The money raised will be used to fund projects developed by the board. However, to ensure the association covers internal costs and nets some revenue, consider a formula for how the money will be allocated (e.g., 80 percent used for projects and 20 percent to cover overhead). For example, the association corporate advisory board I managed had 12 companies join the board at $10,000 each their first year. Of those funds, $90,000 were used to pay for a public-awareness campaign, and $30,000 was revenue to the association. We determined the split for the first year would be 25 percent overhead/75 percent projects and then 20 percent overhead/80 percent projects moving forward.
Project selection. It could be difficult to gain consensus on projects or to hold open discussion. Smooth this process by brainstorming projects ahead of time and then use the board to prioritize and select. These may be projects brainstormed during your strategic-planning session or projects that you wanted to do but never had funding for.
Board procedures. Once your board is formed, it should function similarly to your association’s board or committees. Ensure there is an agenda and a well-thought process to identify projects and reach consensus. Like your association board, certain voices will dominate or be viewed as making all the decisions. Ensure your association has control and chairs the board. Utilize Robert’s Rules or something similar to facilitate meetings. I also recommend individual calls with the sponsors following meetings as some may be more passive speaking up in a group environment. Be sure to share progress reports, financial updates, and minutes as you would other groups to communicate updates and for transparency.
If a corporate advisory board sounds like something that might be right for your association, discuss the concept with existing sponsors to see if it fills a current need. The “sell” here is that the collective efforts of the industry will help advance the field and thus everyone’s interests.
The corporate advisory board I helped a medical association create was able to raise six figures and complete its project goal. This type of success is possible for your organization, if you plan appropriately and provide a forum for your corporate partners to contribute. Good luck achieving your win-win.