2017-18 Board Fellows Gain Insight, Experience
The 2018 Board Fellowship Program was one of our biggest and most competitive programs all year. 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 2017-18 Board Fellows, but we interviewed a few of our board fellows here and learned a bit more about their personal experiences with the program:
Ryan DeCook, MSW ’18
- Organization: National Network of Depression Centers
- Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Describe the project you have worked on with National Network of Depression Centers: I have worked on restructuring the board of directors at the National Network of Depression Centers. We are also trying to look at how we equitably distribute funding to the member centers.
How did you help deliver social impact through this experience/board fellowship? Hopefully this work will help lead to the organization being more effective and fulfill its potential to help others with depression/bipolar disorder.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned? I’ve learned about the relational dynamics of a board and how to try and navigate seeing change come about.
What impact will this experience have on future plans, if any? Yes, I hope to continue staying involved with the NNDC. Since I’m going into the mental health field I hope to stay connected with the organization long term.
Do you have advice for future board fellows? If possible, try and get matched to an organization/mission that you care about. That has made all the difference for me and given me a great experience.
Stephanie Roman, MPP ’18 and Hannah Smalley, MBA/MPH ’20
- Organization: Alternatives for Girls
- Location: Detroit, MI
Describe the project you have worked on with Alternatives for Girls: The project has focused on surveying and documenting all previous advocacy work by the organization in order to create a strategic advocacy plan moving forward. We have interviewed board members and staff, and continue to conduct these interviews to ensure our policy advocacy recommendations are in line with the strategic goals of the organization and fit within the operational limitations of AFG.
How did you help deliver social impact through this experience/board fellowship? This experience has given us the opportunity to share our knowledge of policy and advocacy with AFG to strengthen the impact of their advocacy work among stakeholders and Detroit residents. The board fellowship has also provided us with real-world insights into how nonprofit boards function as well as the staff and financial constraints that nonprofits have to navigate.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned? The board’s job is essentially a series of balancing acts. There is a very fine line between micromanaging day to day aspects of the organization and being too hands off, as well as ensuring that short term and long term goals fit together as effectively and efficiently as possible.
What impact will this experience have on future plans, if any? I have always wanted to sit on a board. However, I never fully understood what it meant to be part of that type of governing body, so it was really more of an abstract goal. This unique experience of being able to view the inner workings of a board as an outsider–while also contributing to its progress–has absolutely helped show me what type of board I want to sit on when the time comes, and the type of board member I want to be.
Do you have advice for future board fellows? Sitting on a non-profit board is unpaid, voluntary, time consuming, and is done in addition to a day job because they believe in the organizations mission. Non-profit staff are very passionate, but they are typically stretched very thin and their time is valuable. This means that although the staff and board are as engaged as possible with the board fellows and their projects, communication can be challenging. To get the most out of this experience it is incredibly important to be proactive with emails and calls, and if you don’t hear back from someone you need to speak to, follow up, follow up, and then follow up again.
Sean Welsh, MBA ’19
- Organization: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County
- Location: Ypsilanti, MI
Describe the project you have worked on with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County: We worked on the strategic planning process for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Washtenaw County.
How did you help deliver social impact through this experience/board fellowship? By conducting SWOT analysis sessions with board members, employees, and the volunteers (bigs), we ensured that the strategic planning process incorporated viewpoints from multiple stakeholders. This allowed the executive director and board to get a more complete view of problem areas and opportunities so that the organization could better serve its beneficiaries (littles) in future years.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned? Employee development and mobility needs a lot more attention in the nonprofit sector. This is something that comes up time and time again; however, the funding just never gets allocated to those that are the backbone of organizations.
What impact will this experience have on future plans, if any? This experience solidified my desire to serve on nonprofit boards in the future and made me feel more equipped to add value to a board.
Do you have advice for future board fellows? For those that are MBAs specifically, take action and conduct research early. If you start strong, it’s easier to keep up with the project while your recruiting is happening.