Why did you apply to be a Nonprofit Board Fellow?
Before Kellogg, I volunteered at fundraising events and with nonprofits like youth advisory boards. My long-term goal is to be a philanthropist. I knew I wanted to use business school to prepare for that by learning about the nonprofit sector more generally—and about sustainable financing. I also thought it would be helpful to gain board-level exposure and broaden my network. The Board Fellows program had a clear value proposition that offered all those things.
Can you describe your experience?
There are courses on governance, sustainability, social impact at Kellogg—and other experiential options—but I don't think there's another strong, structured experience like the Board Fellows program. It does a good job of keeping track of past projects, sharing relevant documents, and connecting current and previous Fellows. My project was on diversity, and I got to connect with other people who had worked on similar projects. That said, you are limited by what the organization’s needs are, so different nonprofits will have different opportunities. You do get a lot of creative freedom as to how to go about making an impact at your organization, and you are not solely confined to your project. There are other opportunities to branch out and learn about your nonprofit.
What were your biggest takeaways?
There’s a strong overlap between the skills that are relevant for nonprofit and for-profit governance—from relationship-building to thinking through strategic challenges—and the program gave me the chance to practice those. I developed a sense of what good looks like and now feel much more well-equipped to join and shape my position on other boards. It also helped me learn more about myself: my blind spots, my strengths, where I fit in organizations and what I would do differently. After the program, I have a better understanding of the requirements and challenges of working with boards at different stages and am more thoughtful about what I say yes to—and, even more importantly, when to say no. I think the true impact of that will be hard to quantify.
What surprised you about your experience?
I was surprised by how closely what we experienced in the classroom mirrored reality. We covered a lot of ground, from the types of strategy and finance questions which come up frequently, to the ways in which disagreements can emerge in a group. During my tenure, I’ve seen a lot of those lessons play out in real life, almost to a tee. The program was incredible preparation.
What advice would you have for prospective or current students who are interested in the program?
Try and balance your learning and your ability to have impact. Before applying, ask yourself where you think you can help the nonprofit (given your experience), and where you have room to grow. I recommend using the project as an opportunity to lean into your strengths and add value early on, and getting the learning by sitting on the relevant committee(s) and raising your hand for the right tasks.