a view from the Board Side “Starting from scratch”

By Dick  Hagerty, Advisory board member

“We have no advisory board. How do we start one from scratch?”

I hear that question often in my training sessions. There is no joy in recognizing that you have no board, or only a fragment of one, and feeling the frustration of not knowing how to take the first steps toward building a solid board.

Many years ago I worked at Kaiser Industries, and our engineers were building a massive earthfill dam on the Orinoco River in Venezuela. The river was at the bottom of a mile-deep canyon, and the only way to commence building the dam was to excavate giant boulders—big as a house—from a nearby mountain, transport them to the edge of the canyon and roll them down the steep banks into the swiftly moving river.

Boulder after boulder was swept away by the current; day after day these rocks failed to take hold. Then, without any warning, one rock stuck, then another, and yet another. Soon many rocks were clinging to the original rocks, and the dam began to rise to its ultimate completion.

Building a board from scratch is a similar process. You go, you recruit, you make contacts; they come and see what is happening, and many will be “swept down the river,” unwilling to help build your advisory organization. But those few that do stick are the beginning of a strong structure, and soon you will find yourself building one upon the next, and your board will grow and thrive.

Still, where do you start?

Start simply by asking. I am on four Salvation Army boards, and in each case I was asked to come on board. No one will just show up and start serving. You have to ask! Search your old records to see if in the past an active board existed. If so, then see which of those early members might still be around and at least willing to help you begin.

We started a new board 20 years ago in our neighboring city of Turlock. We researched the rosters of the various service clubs like the chamber of commerce, and even the faculty of the local university. We mailed out over 100 personally signed invitations to a luncheon to meet and discuss the likelihood of starting a new board in that community.

About 50 showed up, with at least some level of interest. We gave them a good overview of the Army and our plans for the community. We asked them to return for a follow-up meeting and to bring someone along who might be interested.

At that meeting we had a solid 25 attend. We asked point blank how many would be willing to serve on an inaugural board, and about a dozen agreed. We were off and running.

Corollary to that strategy, our board in Modesto formed a small committee of three longtime members to act as a liaison committee to their new board. The three of us trekked 20 miles south twice a month to attend the board and executive committee meetings.

It was critical that we remain silent unless called upon during those early meetings. We worked hard to be there for support, but not act like Big Brother or the wise guys from the big city. If things happened that were out of step or inappropriate, we waited until later and discussed these in a positive manner with the officer and the board chair.

And it worked! We slowly weaned ourselves out of their system, and in 18 months we completely stopped attending and observing—they were doing fine on their own.

While there are surely other ways to build a board, without those first solid “rocks” to build on you will find it a long and uphill struggle. The process is not difficult. It is just consistent hard work, patience and diligence. It will not just happen; it requires a few committed folks doing a lot of calling, follow up and mentoring.

So, start rolling those “boulders” down the mountain. You will be amazed how quickly they begin to stick, to grow and to form the nucleus of a successful advisory organization.

Contact me by email for assistance with materials, ideas and feedback on starting and growing your advisory board or council via

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