Seat a committee of reviewers that represent the community and the audiences served by the funding program.
Advisory Committee members are responsible for helping the funder make community-based decisions on applications.
By utilizing a diverse community-based Advisory Committee that has significant insight into the subject-matter, applicants can be confident that their proposals went through an unbiased decisionmaking process. A combination of community leaders, former grantees, and members of the funder’s staff or board brings a diverse set of perspectives to the review process.
Additionally, by adding to the projects’ network of support, they play a critically important role in advancing the mission and goals of funder by helping the programs and projects to succeed.
- Who best represents and understands the community being served by the funding program?
- Are there any community partners or leaders that can provide expert knowledge on the program’s topic area and an overarching understanding of the field?
- Are there any previous project managers that have outgrown the support and would better serve the program as an Advisory Committee member?
- Are there program stakeholders that should be a part of the review process, allowing them to contribute without being the sole decisionmaker?
- Do the prospective decisionmakers have the time necessary to dedicate to the review process?
- Create a spreadsheet to keep track of potential advisors, their status (e.g., asked/confirmed/declined), and their contact information.
- Revisit your program design notes and add community leaders you identified then as important then the process to your prospect list.
- Review your application design and brainstorm subject-matter experts and audience advocates knowledgeable about questions you ask applicants.
Establish Roles and Responsibilities
Write down clear expectations for what it means to serve as a program advisor. Consider the roles and responsibilities of service in terms of decisionmaking as well as network of support for you and your funded projects in the community.
Advisors are responsible for the following duties each round:
- Reading applications for funding consideration.
- Scoring each application against objective criteria, prioritizing projects, and providing written comments or questions.
- Attending a meeting with the Advisory Committee to discuss the projects under consideration.
- Authorizing the Funding Round Report that summarizes the meeting before it advances to the Board of Directors.
Advisors are also asked to:
- Be a champion: Advocate for projects in the community and follow trends and important developments that are related to the program.
- Be a resource: Connect funded projects to their personal and professional networks to help them better succeed in the community.
- Be responsive: Reply to requests for information and feedback in a timely manner.
- Be the funder’s eyes and ears: Share what they hear from members of the community with other committee members and staff to aid in an assessment of the funder’s efforts.
- Be active and engaged: Take the opportunity to attend, participate in, or become involved with supported projects.
Advisors who are unable to fulfill the roles and responsibilities of committee membership may be asked to step aside in favor of others who will participate consistently.
Determine Size and Service Commitment
The size of the committee will vary depending on the funding program and availability of community members. For an ongoing program, a committee of 8-15 members allows for varying knowledge sets to be a part of the review process while accounting for occasional attrition. For a one-time program reviewing a few applications, a smaller committee might suffice; for a one-time large review, a bigger group might be needed.
For ongoing programs, committee members are typically asked to commit to at least 1 year. For one-time programs, service may be as short as a day, a few weeks, or only a month.
Identify Potential People
When considering the constitution of the committee, think about what types of expertise, experience, and relationships in the community would be most helpful in the review process. Try to ensure demographic diversity by asking a wide range of people, working to fill in gaps as people respond to the invitation either through recommendations from those that are unable to participate or from the original list of prospective committee members. It is also important to consider if program stakeholders should be part of the committee to help ensure that the recommendations will be able to move forward for authorization or if they should intentionally be kept separate from the process for transparency purposes.
Prospective Advisory Committee members should be approached once the funding opportunity is announced. This will allow for committee members to hold important dates and ensure that they have time for adequate review of the materials. The invitation should include an estimate of the time commitment that is expected from them during a certain time period along with the date and time of the decisionmaking meeting.
When seating a committee, it is recommended to avoid asking people with any of the following conflicts of interest in order to have a fair, unbiased review:
- Immediate family member of an applicant
- Direct fiduciary responsibility for a project
- Board or staff member, paid consultant, or contractor of an applicant organization
- Otherwise named in an application as an active participating manager or partner
Finalize the Committee
All committee members should be confirmed in the week following the application deadline, with the review packet being sent shortly after. This will allow for the program manager to invite additional people if there are too many conflicts of interest or high attrition following the application deadline. If the committee will be reviewing applications on an ongoing basis, conflicts of interest should be determined on a case-by-case basis during each individual round.
Methods We Love
Utilizing former grantees as reviewers. Former grantees know what it takes to lead a project well and can often identify potential challenges and barriers to success that the applicant should consider before implementing the project. They are also often well connected in the community and can suggest potential partnerships and resources that will strengthen the project.
Creating a shared table. Mix residents with community stakeholders to ensure that the recommendations were in the best interest of their community and aligned well with the overarching strategies of larger initiatives. For example, a placed-based grants program might include a committee composed of community leaders, past project leaders, and major funder representatives.
Inviting people to apply to be decisionmakers. Have people who are interested in being on the Advisory Committee nominate themselves through an online form or email describing their background and what would make them a valuable part of the decisionmaking process.
Seating multiple committees. Engage different audiences to help make different decisions about multiple aspects of a program. For example, a community-wide call for art might separate youth and adult applicants. A youth jury could be used to select a set of youth finalists while a professional artist jury selects adult finalists and with the overall winner.
Using online voting to make decisions. While online voting is a great way to get the public involved in the decisionmaking process, it might not be a fair to have it be the only way decisions get made. It is often geared more toward measuring popularity/whose network is most active on social media than the quality of an idea. Additionally, it is very difficult to prevent robots from being used to skew the results. If used, we recommend turning off comments or ratings and only allow people to “like” ideas instead of a thumbs up/down option. We also had success when we paired public votes with expert review, allowing the committees to consider the public vote as a part of their overall final assessment of the application.
Managing conflicts of interest. Because colleagues or family members of prospective applicants often make good Advisory Committee members, it is important not to finalize the Advisory Committee for a one-time program until all applications have been received. Through active prospect management, the program manager should have an idea of which prospects plan on submitting an application. Once a prospect communicates that they do not plan to apply, people that would have had a conflict of interest because of their application can be approached about being on the Advisory Committee.
Templates & Downloads
- Invitation Email Template
- Invitation Email
- Advisory Committee Training Agenda
- Advisory Committee Training Manual