2022-23 Board Fellows Learn about Nonprofits
The 2022-23 Board Fellowship Program was every bit as successful as in recent 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, each worked on a board-level project tackling a complex organizational challenge, and attended the Board Fellows Forum in March.
You can see the complete list of 2022-23 Board Fellows, but we interviewed a few of our board fellows here and learned a bit more about their personal experiences with the program:
Lillian Brandt, MAcc ’23
Organization: Ann Arbor Civic Theatre
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Describe the project you have worked on with the organization, and how did it further the organization’s mission? The project I worked on with Ann Arbor Civic Theater utilized my accounting skills as a MAcc student at the University of Michigan. The project’s overall goal was to help simplify the play selection process using financial measurements and an overall organization of financial statements.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from the Board Fellowship experience; what skill have you developed? I utilized the knowledge I learned in the classroom with real-world applications. All the tax information I can apply to an organization and the usage of Excel has further expanded my skills on the topic.
What have you learned from attending your nonprofit’s board meetings? Before this project, I had no theater background, but I’ve learned about selecting, producing, and finishing productions. And general theater culture has been an additional learning process while working with Ann Arbor Civic Theater throughout the year.
What impact will this experience have on your future plans? This experience has enriched my knowledge about nonprofits, which was close to none at the start of this project. Knowing that most nonprofits look for individuals with financial background experience to help serve their boards has made me look for opportunities to join a nonprofit board in the future as one of my goals. This experience has also given me more knowledge when I work with nonprofit clients in the future when I work as an accountant.
Do you have advice for future board fellows? This program is such a unique opportunity; I implore future board fellows to use all the resources available to you throughout the year, especially all the workshops!
Dwayne McFarlane, MBA/MSI ’24
Organization: Library of the Great Lakes
Ann Arbor, MI
Describe the project you have worked on with the organization, and how did it further the organization’s mission? When I first onboarded with my non-profit organization, The Library of the Great Lakes, I did so with the intention of designing and implementing a management database system as my fellowship project. However, after attending our annual retreat, it became clear that a pivot toward a service design – research-based UX project would be most beneficial in helping the organization clarify and realize its strategic goals.
The UX project was divided into three iterative sections. To begin the process, we interviewed various stakeholders and conducted deep industry research. The information from this initial phase was then synthesized and utilized to guide the design and user testing phase where we tested hypothetical and prototyped versions of services and website mockups. Finally, the results of the research along with recommendations will be presented to the full board. Because these recommendations will be driven by the desires of the actual target user base that the board has identified, the executive board can utilize any final recommendations to better align the organization’s goals with the expressed needs of the end user.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from the Board Fellowship experience; what skill have you developed? Surprisingly, my Board Fellowship experience has been fairly similar to other experiences I have had previously where I served on committees. What I take away from this experience is a sharpened ability to deeply understand the cohesive vision of the board even if it was not explicitly stated. This was done by listening intently and building connections via correlating ideas/themes.
What have you learned from attending your nonprofit’s board meetings? Organizations, like families, are dynamic. There are ups and downs, but with a shared mission and determination to see it through to completion, amazing things for the benefit of all, can and will happen. Being able to bounce ideas off of each other, share and receive constructive criticism and provide feedback/recommendations that were implemented in tangible ways demonstrated to me how a deliberative process fosters positive growth for an organization.
What impact will this experience have on your future plans? I embarked on this experience wanting to “dip my toes” into the non-profit leadership space. I leave this experience determined to continuously engage in meaningful ways with LGL and similar organizations that are committed to engaging diverse populations with educational activities, resources and programs.
Do you have advice for future board fellows? Remember to draw from the totality of your life experiences and skills when determining the best way that you can make the greatest impact at your non-profit organization. It may be a skill that you’ve learned during your time at Ross or trade you honed years ago.
Jamie Morgenstern, MBA ’24
Organization: SOS Community Services
Describe the project you have worked on with the organization, and how did it further the organization’s mission? I have learned that there is a true shared desire to pay it forward and do good for your community. There are people involved in my non-profit who live very busy lives, hold important jobs and are raising families. Despite the scarcity of free time these people put aside time each week to give something back. This is a quality that should be stressed in schools, organizations and elsewhere to ensure that important work is done, and to share what brings us together rather than what separates us.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from the Board Fellowship experience; what skill have you developed? I have enhanced my communication and leadership skills as a result of the board fellows project.
What have you learned from attending your nonprofit’s board meetings? I have learned about the various committees and their functions within the Board. I have gained a stronger understanding of non-profit financials and what goes into seeking fundraising.
What impact will this experience have on your future plans? In the future I hope to continue working with non-profits to share what I have learned about business, organizations and fundraising. I want to spend time volunteering and making a difference in any community I am a member of.
Do you have advice for future board fellows? My advice for future Board Fellows is to start slow, learn about the mission and the talents and expectations of your fellow board members. It is important to listen, to learn and then to add your perspective. That said, do not be shy in sharing your ideas and input. Your perspective or life experience might be somewhat unique, so share your ideas and your views. Just make sure you do so respectfully and with an eye towards contributing something meaningful to the endeavor.
Zach Nerod, MBA/MS ’24
Organization: Washtenaw Housing Alliance
Ann Arbor, MI
Describe the project you have worked on with the organization, and how did it further the organization’s mission? I have helped WHA implement a new set of development guidelines for board members, find and choose a new CRM software for tracking donations, and created a new calendar to structure their development activities. Each of these are central to WHA’s long term development success, and the development guidelines are especially important. These guidelines will help make being a board member more accessible for WHA constituents and will give clarity to current members as to ways they can help achieve WHA’s development goals.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from the Board Fellowship experience; what skill have you developed? My biggest takeaway from my Fellowship experience has been how necessary providing structure to an organization’s development activities is. I am not someone who instinctively creates structure, so this lesson has been particularly salient for me. To that end, I have really developed that skill as well; I feel I am better able to convey expectations and set up processes more than I was back in September.
What have you learned from attending your nonprofit’s board meetings? I have seen first hand how important board member engagement is- WHA’s board is a great asset to the organization and in each member provides fantastic insight and direction with their questions and contributions. I have been really impressed by how collaborative and supportive4 the board is, and how committed each member is to WHA’s mission.
What impact will this experience have on your future plans? My time as a Board Fellow has confirmed my desire to serve on a nonprofit’s board in the future. Beyond that, however, I have a better understanding of the operations of a non-profit, and as I hope to work in that sector, this experience will be a huge asset in that regard.
Do you have advice for future board fellows? Yes!!! Take every opportunity to engage with your organization! My highlight of my time as a fellow was choosing to attend WHA’s State of Homelessness event. The morning event was an incredible way to learn about all aspects of WHA’s operations and goals, and was the kind of experience I had hoped to have when I applied!
Alexia Carrillo Villalobos, MPP ’23
Organization: A Brighter Way
Location: Ypsilanti, MI
Describe the project you have worked on with the organization, and how did it further the organization’s mission? I am currently working on the On-Boarding Project which is a process for their board members when hired. A Brighter Way is currently in a period of growth. In order to sustain and continue it, they needed to expand systems and standard operating procedures. The approach to this is to further continue the mission in identifying potential board members, through an approach of finding individuals with diverse experiences and backgrounds to represent the community they are serving – returning citizens.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned from the Board Fellowship experience; what skill have you developed? Coming into this experience, I only had experience working at a non-profit through a different perspective. This opportunity has allowed me to take a step into the process of people who shape the organization, board members. They play a huge role in development, commitment, and advocacy. The On-Boarding project has given me skills in making sure when board members are hired, they have a smooth transition on the key things needed to adapt into the organization. For example, what are the board expectations, how does funding work within the organization, current projects, mission, etc. I have improved and developed communication skills, critical thinking, and strategic planning.
What have you learned from attending your nonprofit’s board meetings? I have learned that it is important to have an agenda set up in order to manage the meetings with the time we have. There are so many action items and information being shared that this system creates an effective process. In addition, it takes everyone in the meetings to make things happen, and I have seen A Brighter Way work together to make sure they are meeting their mission and the communities they are serving. Making sure that is the key highlight of the meetings.
What impact will this experience have on your future plans? This experience will inform my way of thinking through a different approach. As someone who has experience working in the non-profit sector, this will provide perspectives from both ends. It has given me the skills on how to analyze what works and what doesn’t in an organization. These skills are beneficial to me wherever I go and will take this experience in environments I will be working in-especially in teams.
Do you have advice for future board fellows? My advice would be, it’s okay not to know EVERYTHING. This is an opportunity to grow and I do believe we are always learning and growing. Allow yourself to get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself in ways you can to improve either skills or knowledge. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask questions and communicate your needs to have a better working environment not just for yourself but your advisors.