Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana
Golub Capital Board Fellows Program Nonprofit Partner
After working with her fifth Golub Capital Board Fellow, Holly Buckendahl, the CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana (RMHC-CNI), said “I love that Kellogg and Golub Capital have this program. It’s such a smart idea, and I’m so glad we found it.”
The Golub Capital Board Fellows program places Kellogg MBA candidates with leading Chicagoland non-profits to help them achieve their missions. RMHC-CNI is one of those nonprofit partners. They exist to help families get better together, access critical medical care, and stay close to their hospitalized children.
“One of the things that is so special about the program is the matching process,” said Board Fellows alum Addie Spencer. “It’s a lengthy application for the Fellows, which makes people intentional about what they want, but also requires the nonprofits to think about what will add value to them.”
One of the most valuable opportunities is the project that each Fellow conducts for their nonprofit partner.
“These projects are a great way to help the board activate and elevate key priorities it has identified—not just because there’s an excellent person to drive the thinking forward, but also because that person brings a new perspective. It has allowed the board to become more intentional and strategic in its priorities,” Buckendahl said.
In one recent example, RMHC-CNI’s Board Fellow Ava Quail led a project on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Strategies, which exceeded the board’s expectations, taking concepts from the private sector and applying them to the nonprofit world. “Ava went above and beyond to provide eye-opening insights, and set the board up for how to think about the issue,” Buckendahl said. “We’re more well-versed in ESG now thanks to this project.”
Quail combined research with insights from Kellogg professors that are knowledgeable in ESG practices, noting that she would not have been able to complete the project without Buckendahl’s unwavering support and the board’s willingness to help.
Quail explained, “At RMHC-CNI, I was lucky to witness exceptional leadership by Holly Buckendahl, who has guided the organization with great humility and a powerful vision, and Jeff Cantalupo, who has built a warm and inclusive board culture. I could not have asked for a better Board Fellow experience!”
In a second example, a former Fellow focused on RMHC-CNI’s pipeline and recruitment strategies to help make the organization’s processes streamlined and the board more accountable for its composition. They also left a tool in place that has helped the board be more focused when forecasting its board composition even five years out.
Spencer worked at a brand agency before Kellogg and was looking for career opportunities in brand marketing. So, when she saw that RMHC-CNI wanted to develop its marketing strategy and outreach in the aftermath of COVID-19, she knew this was a project where she could have an impact.
Board Fellows are expected to give 6-10 hours a month, including bi-weekly meetings with Buckendahl and monthly conversations with another board member who acts as a mentor. However, by integrating the Board Fellows into onboarding meetings that already take place for new board members, the effort required by RMHC-CNI is relatively light.
“The Fellows themselves don't require a lot of handholding,” Buckendahl said. “After all, we’re talking about extremely talented MBA students who are part of a very selective program.”
That said, Fellows will often go above and beyond to integrate with their nonprofits. Josh Rose – the Board Fellow who joined RMHC-CNI this year – has attended board meetings over the summer, completed volunteer work, and attended fundraising events. He is also planning a personal project in parallel with his formal project for the program.
“We have a year to be involved, so I asked myself: ‘what can I contribute?’” Rose said. “Thankfully, because there’s some overlap in Fellows at the end of the school year, it really feels like stepping onto an already moving train, where you can see what works and get to work quickly rather than building up from square one.”
The depth of the nonprofit-Fellow partnership is not limited by the bounds of the program. “It is not uncommon for Fellows to contribute well beyond the program requirements,” said Alli Henry, Clinical Assistant Professor of Social Impact and Director of the Golub Capital Board Fellows program. “Some Fellows take on extremely challenging projects. Others take on two, three or four projects. I always advise nonprofit partners not to underestimate what their Fellows are capable of and hungry for.”
Fellows also often serve as connectors to other Kellogg resources. Spencer, for example, connected RMHC-CNI to a Kellogg professor, who teaches a research class in which students analyze and provide insights on real organizations’ data for free. The professor selected RMHC-CNI as one of those organizations.
The commitment to go above and beyond stems from a deep connection to the nonprofit partner. In Spencer’s case, this started before she came to Kellogg, when she volunteered at a Ronald McDonald House in Maryland.
Rose noted the importance of visiting RMHC-CNI in person. He shared, “One thing that appealed to me about RMHC-CNI from the very beginning, and that I've continued to feel grateful for, is that you get to see first-hand the impact that the organization has. The board meetings are in one of the Ronald McDonald Houses where families are staying. It’s really moving. The organization has done a wonderful job of staying grounded in their mission every single day. You never forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. I love it.”
The depth of that connection continues beyond completion of the program. In fact, last year more than 20% of the graduating class became full voting members of their boards after graduation. Alumni who move away from Chicago often seek out board positions at the nearest affiliate of their nonprofit partner. For example, Spencer plans to remain involved at Ronald McDonald House New York and hopes to join their Associate Board. She said, “Ronald McDonald House in Chicago is so physically rooted in the city; it was a great way to get to know and become connected to the place I was living. I loved that experience and am surprised how attached I’ve become to the organization.”
Buckendahl concurred, “Every one of the Fellows has contributed something meaningful to the business and the governance processes of the board. These MBA students will be executives someday and we often find ourselves wanting to keep Fellows on board.”
She encourages other nonprofits to apply for the program, “If you're thinking about doing it, I would say: it's amazing. We have no regrets. You should do it.”