How to Find Your Advisory Board

Why Volunteers and Philanthropists Make the Best Advisors

“I need to build an advisory board for my company,” she said.

I was meeting with Louise Wasilewski, an entrepreneur who started Acivilate. Louise is aiming to change the criminal justice system in America, state by state. She has created a SaaS based system which supports mobile interaction from parolees. The system guides the parolee in honoring the terms of his parole, thus keeping him from returning to prison.

Louise’s heart is for these men and women. At the same time, the states which adopt the Acivilate system will realize millions in savings through reduced recidivism.

Alignment Matters Most

We talked through the importance of an advisory board for a startup. These people bring their expertise and network to the startup, which can accelerate its growth. More importantly, by their very presence, they bring much needed market credibility. But there must be alignment between the entrepreneur, the market, and the advisory member’s values.

One of the most important values, in this case, is the need for the advisors to have a heart for their communities. This reminded me of a friend who is a fundraiser for a Christian university. He is looking for the same kind of people. Here is what he told me he does to qualify them.

“At the highest level, I need to be talking to the right people. So the people I contact are in some way connected to the university. They might be alumni, or parents and grandparents of alumni. These are the individuals who have experienced firsthand the Christian leaders we help build,” he said.

“Then I have to determine if they are philanthropists. I am trying to answer the question: Do they give? Because if they don’t already give, then I need to honor who they are, not change them. I respect everyone with whom I meet.”

“How do you go about determining if they are philanthropists or not?” I asked him.

Do They Volunteer?

“I engage them in a conversation about their family, their business, and their church. It is here I learn if they give of their time. A philanthropist may tell me the civic organizations he volunteers for or the work he is doing for the church. The folks that aren’t philanthropists will tell me about their memberships in organizations but don’t speak to any personal volunteer work,” he explained.

“So if a person gives of their time to their community, you assume they also will give money?” I asked.

“I find that to be true in more cases than not. If a person is giving their time, they are sensitive to the financial needs of the organization. Some also raise money for their organizations. So they surely get it,” he answered.

He continued, “Then my job is to determine their unique interests. What causes are important to them? Where is God breaking their heart? When I understand their interests, I try to match them to an area in the university which serves that interest.”

Three Step Process

I think this is a great way to find advisory board members. I thought Louise could use the same method as my fundraising friend. It is a three step process for the entrepreneur.

1. Does the prospective advisor have a connection or affinity to your marketplace?
2. Are they a philanthropist and volunteer in their communities?
3. Is what you do complementary to their interests?

I believe advisory boards are an important ingredient for a startup. I’ve observed startups that didn’t have them and those that did. Those with them gained knowledge and credibility in a shorter time frame than those that didn’t. And in a startup, time is money.

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