2019-20 Board Fellows Learn about Nonprofits

Overview

The 2019-20 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.  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. 


Resources

  • See photos from the Board Fellows’ Experience:

2019-20 Board Fellows Experiences

2018-19 Board Fellows on the Road to Leadership

Overview

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

Organization: Ponyride

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.


Check out the complete list of the 2018-19 Board Fellows.

For information on applying to the Board Fellows program, click here.

My Work with a Nonprofit in Detroit Has Shown Me The True Power of Collaboration

By Grace Kendra, MM ’19

From the moment I was accepted into the Master of Management Program at the Ross School of Business, I started looking into opportunities that would supplement my academic studies and provide relevant experiences for my future career.

Whether my career choices would land me in the nonprofit sector or not, I knew a goal of mine was to be involved in aiding the missions of nonprofit organizations in the community where I live. The Board Fellowship Program appeared to be, and has been, the perfect opportunity.

Read the full blog post »

2017-18 Board Fellows Gain Insight, Experience

Overview

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

Stephanie Roman:

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.

Hannah Smalley:

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.


For a complete listing of the 2017-18 Board Fellows, click here.

For information on applying to the Board Fellows program, click here.