Are you getting the most from your advisory board?

Don’t stop with the annual meeting.

If you only meet with your advisory board once or twice a year, you may be letting a valuable resource go untapped.

Advisory board members can serve as partners to keep faculty and students connected to the profession, and ensure faculty are preparing students to be hired, said Mitchell Franklin, CPA, director of undergraduate and graduate accounting programs at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y.. What’s more, he added, those advisory board members can get involved with their departments in numerous ways.

Board members are more excited and engaged with their departments when they’re able to roll their sleeves up and get involved, said Jerry Maginnis, CPA, accounting executive-in-residence and chair of Rowan University’s accounting advisory board. In fact, as Rowan’s advisory board became more involved in student life and campus events, Maginnis said the university found itself with a waitlist for potential board members as word spread and more people looked to join.

At the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, N.Y., the advisory board wasn’t always so involved, said Steve Morse, CPA, CGMA, principal with the Bonadio Group in Rochester, N.Y., and chair of the school’s accounting advisory board.

Today, though, things have changed. RIT students in their second year or beyond are paired with an advisory board member for mentorship opportunities. The department also holds special student workshops and annual events that bring together faculty, students, and board members, Morse said. Student workshops led by board members supplement what’s taught in class. For example, a member who works in public or corporate accounting might go through the tasks a student will face in his or her first year on the job.

Franklin, Morse, Maginnis, and Stephanie Weidman, Ph.D., chair of the department of accounting and finance at Rowan University, all of whom have increased the role of their advisory boards on campus, offer advice to faculty and to advisory board members:

Provide opportunities for the board, faculty, and students to come together. Board members will be motivated by meeting with students and hearing success stories, while students and faculty can benefit from networking and learning about the profession from board members.

For example, Rowan University launched an annual event called Celebrating Success, a dinner that brings together faculty, administrators, board members, students, and prospective employers, Maginnis said. Last year, 130 people attended. “We increased the connectivity with all those people that have an interest or a stake in the accounting program,” he said.

RIT holds an annual kickoff event where students go on a scavenger hunt seeking information from advisory board members to get to know them, collecting business cards from board members as they get answers, which helps them form connections, Morse said.

Make sure the right people are serving on your board. “You want advisory board members to be serving for the right reasons — not just because it enhances their C.V., but because they also want to add value and provide input,” Weidman said. She and Maginnis have worked together to prepare a document that explains the time commitment and expectations for Rowan’s advisory board members.

This can also mean that an advisory board starts small, or that a larger board is whittled down to a group of committed members and then new members are added, Morse said.

For more information on putting together an advisory board, download this toolkit from the AICPA Pre-certification Education Executive Committee.

Be proactive. In some cases, board members who want to become more involved may want to take the initiative themselves, Franklin said. Reach out to someone within the accounting department with whom you have a good relationship, and ask to help, he suggested. A board member who is a CPA specializing in corporate tax, for example, could ask a tax professor if there is an opportunity to give a presentation to a class.

Groom young alumni for future service. Advisory boards tend to skew older. Their members typically have reached a point in their careers where they can take time away from work to serve, Franklin said. But he thinks it’s important to keep young alumni involved so they may become board members later in life.

Le Moyne has formed a young alumni council, comprising alumni who were active in clubs and other leadership roles. These young alums meet two to three times per year for networking events, and they serve on campus in roles such as guest speakers and student mentors, Franklin said.

Think outside the box for ways to engage your board members. Beyond the examples listed above, board members can serve on campus in other ways. For instance, they can team-teach on technical topics, or provide faculty with real-world examples to aid in writing case studies, Franklin said. If regulations such as tax laws change, an advisory board member in that field can educate faculty on the changes.

Board members can provide input on curriculum modifications and updates to ensure the changes meet the needs of the profession, Weidman said.

Rowan’s advisory board committees also work to bring new recruiters to campus, and they provide career preparation opportunities for students, including resume reviews and mock interviews, Maginnis said. (This article suggests even more ways practitioners can volunteer on campus.)

Whatever approach you take, see your advisory board as more than just a sounding board, Franklin said. Instead, view it as a way to help prepare future students for the workplace.

“Most board members are on the board for a reason,” Franklin said. “They want to give back in some way.”

Lea Hart is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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