The 2018-19 Board Fellowship Program was our biggest and most competitive program in years. Students from Ross, Ford, School of Social Work, Public Health, and other programs developed project management and executive skills as board members of nonprofit organizations in Southeast Michigan.
In addition to attending all board meetings and serving on a board committee, they worked on a board-level project tackling a complex organizational challenge.
You can see the complete list of 2018-19 Board Fellows, but we interviewed a few of our board fellows here and learned a bit more about their personal experiences with the program:
Kevin Finnegan, MPP
Location: Detroit, MI
Describe the project you have worked on with the organization. Ponyride is a diverse community that fosters opportunities for socially conscious artists, innovators, entrepreneurs and manufacturers. For my project I developed a landscape analysis of local and national makerspaces to identify areas of growth for the organization. While Ponyride is a unique space that has focused on providing below-market space to Detroit’s entrepreneurs since 2011, there are similarities and lessons that can be learned from similar organizations. My project helped to identify the strengths and weaknesses of these companies as Ponyride transitions from its current location in Corktown to its new space in the Core City neighborhood.
How did you help deliver social impact through this experience/board fellowship? My significant experience in the nonprofit sector helped me identify areas where I could best be of service. As a board member, it was important to get a broad picture of the organization, but directly speaking with current and past tenants helped me to truly understand why Ponyride is a true picture of Detroit’s grit and entrepreneurial spirit. This understanding gave me key insights into what tenants want the new Ponyride to become, and how it can apply lessons learned through my landscape analysis to best help Detroit’s next generation of socially-conscious entrepreneurs.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned? Strategic planning is important, but it only is helpful if that plan can be adjusted to meet the short-term needs of the organization. Contrary to popular belief, the nonprofit sector can move very quickly, so creating a plan that has room for change is important in order to create an impact. My project changed a few times over the semester, and through solidifying personal relationships within my organization, I was able to craft a project that built my skills while also positively contributing to Ponyride. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I benefitted tremendously from the mentorship of Ross alum Jamie Shea, who serves on the Ponyride Board and remains active in the school’s social impact community.
What impact will this experience have on future plans, if any? I am continuing to work with Ponyride in a part-time capacity and hope to continue this work next school year. My career prior to graduate school was focused on college access and success work, but this experience has informed me that I can use the skills from that sector in other venues.
Do you have advice for future board fellows? Take advantage of the resources Board Fellows offers! I drew two items from BA 601: the wealth of experience Professor Weiss brought, and the ability to bounce ideas off other board fellows, who often were having the same struggles as I was. In addition to the class, Program Director Matt Kelterborn and the Senior Board Fellows were always there to answer any questions or provide guidance as I needed it.
Jenna Fiore, MSW
Organization: Salvation Army — Eastern Michigan Division
Location: Southfield, MI
Describe the project you have worked on with the organization. My project focused on strengthening the Advisory Board’s engagement with The Salvation Army’s new Anti-Human Trafficking initiative. I identified ways for the board to become more involved with the initiative, led a board training on the topic, created educational materials, and facilitated a larger community-wide training in collaboration with the Anti-Human Trafficking Case Manager. Ultimately, board members identified concrete steps for further involvement and learned ways to help expand the Salvation Army’s network to end human trafficking.
How did you help deliver social impact through this experience/board fellowship? One way I was able to deliver social impact through this experience was by sharing what I learned with others. Increasing awareness about human trafficking, the signs to look for, and what to do if you suspect trafficking, these are all crucial if we are going to end this modern day slavery.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned? As someone new to the field fighting human trafficking, I learned how complex and nuanced the issue of human trafficking truly is. I also learned that for board members to be effective representatives out in the community, they must understand and know how to convey these complexities.
What impact will this experience have on future plans, if any? This experience greatly impacted my understanding of human trafficking and the ways that businesses in every field can help stop trafficking. I will take what I learned through this experience with me wherever I go.
Do you have advice for future board fellows? My advice for future fellows is to take advantage of the many opportunities Board Fellowship offers. Ask to meet with mentors, try something new, go outside of your comfort zone, and most importantly, listen to the organization you’re partnered with. If you are able to do these things, you will not only have a positive experience, but also make a positive impact.
Grace Kendra, MM
Organization: Old Newsboy’s Goodfellow Fund
Location: Detroit, MI
Describe the project you have worked on with the organization. I had the privilege of working with the Old Newsboys’ Goodfellow Fund of Detroit, a nonprofit organization that prioritizes “No Kiddie Without a Christmas.” They serve approximately 33,000 children within the City of Detroit between the ages of 4 and 13 during the Holiday season to ensure each child receives a gift on Christmas. I specifically helped the organization strategize ways to increase younger membership. Therefore, I conducted a SWOT analysis of the organization with key players to determine internal Strengths and Weaknesses and external Opportunities and Threats to come to a common understanding of what the organization does well and what they need to work on. From there, we brainstormed solutions to help address some of their most pressing issues. Then we moved to the implementation stage with three key solutions.
How did you help deliver social impact through this experience/board fellowship? Being over 100+ years old, this organization has significant experience delivering impact for children throughout Detroit. Therefore, strategizing ways to attract younger generations to the organization is the beginning of setting up a future line of succession. The Goodfellows have extremely passionate members and it was inspiring to help them brainstorm ways to ensure their legacy will be carried on for Detroit children for many more years to come.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned? Through this experience, I not only got exposure to the operations of a nonprofit board, but also the vast array of diversity that exists within a nonprofit board. People from all backgrounds are inspired to bring their unique personal and occupational skills to a nonprofit organization and assist in delivering their mission. It was inspiring to meet the many board members of the Goodfellows and learn about why they joined the organization and later decided to serve as a board member.
What impact will this experience have on future plans, if any? If anything, this experience just confirmed my desire to be involved with the nonprofit sector, regardless of whether it is through my career or through my personal endeavors. I am determined to have a positive impact on the lives of people in the communities in which I live and work, and this experience further confirmed that ambition.
Do you have advice for future board fellows? Always remember to listen first and foremost. There is so much valuable knowledge and insight to be learned from your board, and each member brings different skills to the table. It is a tremendous learning opportunity, so listen attentively and ask questions often to ensure you and your board are getting the most out of the engagement.
Vishnu Suresh, MBA
Organization: Matrix Human Services
Location: Detroit, MI
Describe the project you have worked on with the organization. I worked with Matrix Human Services, one of the largest Detroit-based nonprofits, providing community services including education, medication, and employment for the under-served. Matrix is also the regional provider of the federal program known as Head Start which provides early childhood education, nutrition and medical services. The project at a high level was to help Matrix win the next 5-year contract for Head Start grants, better track key metrics, and involve the board members more closely with Matrix’s operations.
How did you help deliver social impact through this experience/board fellowship? The recommendations I provided included some best practices for board recruitment and engagement such as performing regular board evaluations and developing a planned recruitment and development process for future board appointments. Much of this information was gleaned from the excellent course offered by Prof. Janet Weiss BA 601 “Governance of nonprofit Organizations”
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned? The real world of nonprofit boards and decision making can be chaotic. One must be willing to be flexible, patient and empathetic. Most board members are giving their time in service, and that must be respected. However, it is also important to ensure board composition reflects activities and participation by those same members. Board membership is a delicate balance between fundraising support by members, and relevant skills brought to the board.
What impact will this experience have on future plans, if any? The experience has certainly opened my eyes to the challenges faced by mission-driven organizations. I certainly feel more empowered to take up consulting projects in the future that directly impact nonprofit organizations.
Do you have advice for future board fellows? As you get to understand the goals the organization wants to achieve, also try to set up personal learning goals and push yourself to check and see if those are being met. Opportunities to learn are around every corner! Good luck, and have a ton of fun while you learn.
For information on applying to the Board Fellows program, click here.