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U-M Ross Business + Impact
U-M Ross Business + Impact
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2019-20 Board Fellows Learn about Nonprofits


The 2019-20 Board Fellowship Program was every bit as successful as in recent years. Students from RossFordSchool of Social WorkPublic Health, and other programs developed project management and executive skills as board members of nonprofit organizations in Southeast Michigan.  Although the academic year ending with the closing of all U-M programs due to COVID-19, most students got to experience the bulk of the program between October and March.

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, and attended the Board Fellows Forum in February.

You can see the complete list of 2019-20 Board Fellows, but we interviewed a few of our board fellows here and learned a bit more about their personal experiences with the program:

Louise Ashwell, MSW

Organization: Corner Health Center

Location: Ypsilanti, MI

Describe the project you have worked on with the organization, and how did it further the organization’s mission? I have produced a dashboard for the organization which measures and tracks key metrics relating to total appointments, no-show rates and ages of patients to allow the board to monitor the organization’s progress towards advancing the new strategic plan. I have also produced a brief literature review regarding industry best practice on improving no-show rates and proposed data analyses that the organization can undertake to better identify the factors which inform their no-shows (e.g. prior missed appointments, difference in days between the date the appointment was arranged and the date it was scheduled). This will help them identify common reasons why patients miss appointments and adapt their interventions accordingly. Over time, this will hopefully allow the organization to reduce their no-show rate and meet their other strategic goals.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned; what skill have you developed?

I have gained understanding about the strategic value of dashboards as a practical overview of an organization’s performance and overall direction. I have learnt a great deal too about the performance metrics that are most pertinent in healthcare settings. The process of creating a dashboard from scratch has provided me with insight into how strategic decisions and targets are reached, and has created an opportunity to make a tool which is at once interactive and provides meaningful information without overwhelming board members with more data than they can handle. I pursued the Board Fellowship program at the same time as taking a graduate class in data management in healthcare settings, so the project provided an opportunity for me to apply the skills that I was learning in that class in an applied, meaningful context.

What impact will this experience have on future plans?

I am interested in pursuing a career in program evaluation, so this opportunity to drill down into organizational effectiveness from the high-level perspective of a board member has provided me with valuable understanding both about developing and measuring achievable targets, and communicating them internally. Having been able to develop a practical tool will, I hope, be a resource that I can showcase to prospective employers to demonstrate the data analysis skills that I have acquired.

Do you have advice for future board fellows? My advice would be to maintain consistent communication with your organizational mentor, including a monthly meeting, to ensure you are on the same page about what the final deliverable will be. Be honest about the demands on your time as a busy graduate student and how much time you can realistically spend on the project every month. And do take advantage of the opportunity to gain fascinating insights into how nonprofits are managed and the phenomenal work they do. Supporting a health clinic during the COVID-19 crisis and bearing witness to their phenomenal efforts to protect their staff and patients has been a truly humbling experience. I am in awe of the work the Corner staff put in and the board’s commitment to supporting such a wonderful organization.

Emily Edkins, MBA

Organization: North Star Reach

Pinckney, MI

Describe the project you have worked on with the organization, and how did it further the organization’s mission? During my Board Fellowship experience, I created an on-boarding program for new board members at North Star Reach, an organization committed to providing life-changing camp experiences for children with serious health challenges and their families. The new on-boarding package supports the organization’s long-term goal of recruiting and retaining board members who are engaged and committed to growing the program to serve more families across Michigan and beyond.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned; what skill have you developed? This experience helped me build skills as a nonprofit consultant by approaching challenges more creatively and with a deeper understanding of the unique constraints facing nonprofits. I grew my ability to analyze several complex issues and identify the most pressing and impactful area to focus on in a short period of time. Attending and participating in board meetings exposed me to board meeting facilitation and governance, which is a great foundation as I pursue opportunities to participate on boards in the future.

What impact will this experience have on future plans? I’m excited to continue working with North Star Reach as a Young Associates Board member and advocating for the organization’s important mission. The relationships I’ve built at North Star Reach are lifelong, and I plan to support the roll out of the on-boarding program by facilitating Board Mentor training sessions. This program reinforced my commitment to working in the nonprofit space, with the long-term goal of consulting for nonprofits to help them achieve their strategic goals.

Do you have advice for future board fellows? I would encourage future Board Fellows to embrace opportunities to build relationships with board members and others within the nonprofit organization. Ask questions, be curious, and have an open mind about what is possible. This experience is about being proactive, creative, and adaptable to each organization’s unique challenges and mission, and ultimately making a difference that has lasting impact once the fellowship concludes. I strongly encourage students to consider this opportunity!

Robert Hsu, MBA/MPH

Organization: Growing Hope

Ypsilanti, MI

Describe the project you have worked on with the organization, and how did it further the organization’s mission? I worked on the business case assessment for a nonprofit retail concept to enable local farmers and vendors sell their produce and goods more easily to consumers. Because of the investment required for it, the organization wanted to better understand the idea’s financial viability, operational feasibility, and attractiveness to consumers. To do so, I gathered data from local businesses on their store traffic, examined existing retail outlets in the area, analyzed historical sales data from a similar outlet, and modeled various financial scenarios. Completing the project furthered Growing Hope’s mission by clarifying whether the new concept would successfully build on their current efforts in increasing healthy, local food access through farmers’ markets and gardening programs.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned; what skill have you developed? The biggest thing I learned was that influencing people’s health through food goes beyond just the end consumer. An entire chain of people and resources are involved in creating a well-functioning and fair food system. I appreciate that Growing Hope thinks about the entire food system, from the farmers who work hard to grow produce and deserve fair compensation, to the end consumers who may not have the means to consistently access healthy foods. The skill I have continued to hone is working across numerous stakeholders who have different (yet equally important) perspectives on the same problem or opportunity. I enjoyed learning and hearing from the many people I spoke to this past school year about my project.

What impact will this experience have on future plans? This experience has shown me how people can go beyond being just a volunteer or donor to the organizations they care about. Wherever I live long-term, I am looking forward to forming a meaningful relationship with a local nonprofit organization and, if asked by the non-profit, provide my knowledge and skillsets to helping them achieve their mission.

Do you have advice for future board fellows? I would recommend being flexible since your project plans may change as you learn new information. Your project is also likely one of many priorities for the board, so adapt it to their needs so you deliver a product that is truly helpful to the organization.

Jordan Owens, MBA

Organization: Detroit PAL

Detroit, MI

Describe the project you have worked on with the organization, and how did it further the organization’s mission? My project was to create a strategy for board recruitment, increased board engagement, and an update to the bylaws for the Detroit Police Athletic League. These steps were necessary to reach Detroit PAL’s goals of making better connections throughout the community, making sure that the community is well represented by those elected to the board, and ensuring that members of the Board have the necessary skills and expertise to direct such a large organization.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned; what skill have you developed? The biggest thing that I learned was the importance of making frequent contact with the client throughout the project. Even though all the board members had full-time jobs and busy personal lives, we were able to check in at least bi-weekly. It was important that I was well-prepared to present the current state of the project and my next steps so that we could make the best of the time and stay aligned on the project status and goals.

What impact will this experience have on future plans? After graduation, I would be interested in serving on a nonprofit board. The work they do differs greatly from for-profit corporations, and it was interesting to learn about the unique challenges they face. Serving on a Board like Detroit PAL would be especially exciting and rewarding, because they work directly with kids in the community and have a measurable impact on their lives.

Do you have advice for future board fellows? The most important part of the Board Fellows project is in the first few weeks when you define and scope the project with the help of your Board Mentor. Putting effort in early will set a clear road map for the tasks ahead. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from other Board Fellows, the Business+Impact staff, or any  other available resource.