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How to Start a Small Business Advisory Board

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All non profit organizations need an Advisory Board. Especially small start-up community based organizations. Even if you are the only one starting up a non-profit you need to go out now and find 5 great people to mentor and inspire you on to greatness.

Boston-based business coach Susan Hammond, author of the Advisory Board Kit has the following advise for starting your first Advisory Board.

What is the advantage of having an advisory board?
Many times entrepreneurs and business owners get myopic. They’re just trying to get their business off the ground, and they forget to look at the big picture. Your advisors won’t, and they also become your advocates and network on your behalf.

What types of experts should I look for when assembling the board? 

Start by conducting an honest skills assessment of yourself and your senior management team (if you have one), and figure out where the holes are. If you know what your goals are and you know what your skills assessment looks like, there will be a gap somewhere–those are the expert advisors you’re looking for.

Where do I find the right people?
Anywhere: chamber of commerce, your kid’s PTA, your church, Rotary Club–it’s basic business networking. You might read about someone in the newspaper and cold-call them. I recommend that you approach any [potential advisor] with a letter or e-mail–be very specific about what you’re looking for–and then interview them. Generally when you get a critical mass of three people onboard, you’ll find that they have connections that can help you find those other advisors. A total of seven is as large as you want to get.

Any potential advisors to avoid? 
My cardinal rule is do not invite family or friends, because they become yes people. Plus, they’re going to give you advice whether you want it or not, so why put them on your advisory board? I also don’t believe in putting people such as your accountant, attorney or marketing consultant on your board; you already pay those people to advise you. You’re looking for people external to your company, who are going to challenge you, who may have gone through the same issues you have and will bring a different perspective.

How do advisors benefit from helping me? 
In companies that might ultimately raise venture capital, advisors will probably get some type of stock option. In a non-venture capital type environment, it’s really going to depend on what the organization can bear; it could be $100 a meeting plus a great meal, or it could be $1,500. However, if an advisor makes it a priority that they get paid or get options, they’re the wrong kind of person for you. You want people who want to give back. Maybe they had help when they started their company, or they think your idea is wild and want to be a part of it–or maybe they just like to give advice.

We have two community based non profits, and both have benefited greatly from an Advisory Board. The worst thing a new entrepreneur can do is trying to go it alone. We are social creatures and need interaction, inspiration and support from one another.

Steve Monahan, President

Georgia Institute for Non Profit Leadership

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Non Profit Leadership: Want to Know the Best Hiring Question ?

womNo matter what level person you are interviewing… Non Profit Executive Director, or Volunteer staff person you need to know what they have accomplished, not just what skills they have.

I was CEO of an Executive Search firm for years. We received large fees for finding top talent for fortune 500 companies. One thing I learned well was that people are managed on performance not on their resume skills. Many people who have great skill sets on paper –   never perform in the real world.

So what is the best question to ask a potential team member?…  ask them the SMARTE question. Ask them a question using this acronym to describe their most significant business accomplishments in detail.

While it’s only one question, it’s repeated multiple times for each category of responsibility, to make sure you’re covering all aspects of expected performance. You need to evaluate new team members not on resume skills, but on successful actions at their last position.  Most jobs are really a series of performance tasks like “redesign the accounting  system to track donations better” rather than a list of skills, such as 5 years accounting management.

Here is the SMARTE question to ask all potential team members.

  • Specific task:  please describe the specific task, challenge, project, or problem you solved in your last position?
  • Measurable: What actually changed, How did you or your manager measure your performance?
  • Action: What actions did you actually accomplish and what was your specific role in their success?
  • Result: What were a few actual results you achieved the past year in your role.?
  • Timeframe: When did this accomplishment take place and how long did it take from start to end?
  • Environment: What was the environment you had to accomplish this under, such as crisis mode, personnel issues,  level of sophistication, the people involved.?

Ask the SMARTE question and forget the resume skills and you will really get to know what someone accomplished not what they have unused skills in.

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