governance program puts students on nonprofit boards for action
learning that strengthens the community
sheaf of papers fell to the table with a thud. Inside were
reams of financial data, clues to the fiscal health of a Chicago
nonprofit's board members rifled distractedly through the
papers. The financial report, such as it was, was "so
obtuse, no one would have understood it," remembers Kellogg
School Professor Anne
at the table that evening was a student in the Kellogg School's
Nonprofit Board Fellows program. "I can produce a report
that will make your financial issues crystal clear,"
she said, ensuring that the next meeting was a time for making
decisions rather than shuffling paper.
contribution is one of many that Kellogg students have made
recently to the boards of Chicago-area nonprofits. Other students
have created marketing plans, built Web sites and analyzed
data for nonprofits that otherwise could not afford such expertise.
The students, in turn, have gained knowledge and experience
as nonvoting members of the nonprofits' boards.
give-and-take is at the heart of what has become one of the
hottest classes in the Kellogg curriculum. The Nonprofit Board
Fellows program has earned raves from Chicago nonprofit leaders,
who tout the energy and enthusiasm that Kellogg students bring
to their boards. The students, meanwhile, have embraced the
opportunity to gain board experience prior to graduation.
been amazing," says Bao Phan '07, a second-year
student serving her fellowship on the board of The Cradle,
an Evanston-based adoption agency. Phan says she has learned
much about the intangibles of board service: how relationships
among board members affect decision making, and how a good
executive director balances board demands with staff needs.
learning how important it is to be passionate about an organization's
mission," Phan adds. "I'd never imagined that adoption
would be one of my interests, but this experience has gotten
me so engaged."
in 2003, this student-run initiative has grown at an exponential
pace. The first year it was offered, the program placed three
students on local nonprofit boards. This year, the program
attracted more than 160 applicants — a quarter of the
first-year class — for 45 slots.
a growing recognition that serving on a board is a critical
part of a corporate leader's life," Donnelly says. "I
think that brings a lot of people into the program, people
who may never have planned to work in a nonprofit, but who
see service on a nonprofit board as a part of their career."
recognition is spreading among business students. When the
Kellogg School rolled out the program four years ago, it was
one of the first to involve students on nonprofit boards.
Now, about a dozen schools offer similar programs.
Kellogg initiative is unusual, however, in that it includes
a rigorous classroom component. Before serving their fellowships,
students must complete an academic course on nonprofit board
governance. Then, while serving their fellowships, they continue
to study board issues in a year-long advanced course. They
also participate in discussion groups throughout the fellowship,
sharing insights and challenges.
not only learning about my nonprofit, I'm learning about 10
or 15 others, which enriches my experience even more,"
believes the classroom lays the groundwork for a better board
experience. Jane Mentzinger, executive director of Chicago
Communities In Schools, agrees. "They have a deeper level
of understanding, and it's apparent in the questions they
ask," she says. "They already seem to understand
the nuances of how a nonprofit board works."
organization, which helps bring social services to children
in Chicago public schools, has hosted Kellogg fellows for
the past three years. Each fellow, she says, has left a mark
on the organization. One studied the dynamics of fundraising;
another focused on communications. A third used computer modeling
to analyze data central to the organization's mission.
research was much more in-depth than we ever would have been
able to do on our own," Mentzinger says. "I'd never
had the access to that; we don't have the staff or the resources.
You're always wondering in social services how you measure
your impact and results. Thanks to this program, we were able
to get some answers."
students have their questions answered as well. Anita Barci
'07 is serving her fellowship with the Girl Scouts of
Chicago. "I'm seeing how important it is for an organization
to have a good network of people to call on when it needs
help," she says. "And I'm learning how important
it is to be passionate about the cause. It's so much easier
to get support, for example, when you can tell great stories
about how scouting has changed a girl's life and how those
dollars will make an impact."
to her board fellowship, Barci assumed it would be years before
she would serve on a nonprofit board. "Now I'm realizing
it's something I can do sooner rather than later," she
will be one of many Kellogg graduates to bring their knowledge
into the nonprofit world.
students will be leaders — CEOs and vice presidents
of major companies," Mentzinger says. "We can learn
from them, and we can teach them about nonprofits and how
they are run. By sharing their experience and knowledge, we'll
have stronger boards and stronger nonprofits — and a
better society in the long run."