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Value of nonprofit board service? 'priceless' say these alums

by Ed Finkel

The philanthropic work of Kellogg School alumni runs the gamut from church service to the arts. But perhaps the most common focus among alums who serve on nonprofit boards is education and youth.

"I'm always doing something," says Ted Martin '83, CEO of Chicago-based retained search firm Martin Partners, who serves St. Gregory School for Boys in Chicago, the Chicago Architectural Foundation and the U.S. Tennis Association Charities Classic. "I think it's an important aspect of being part of the business community."

Nancy Searle '78, who devotes herself almost full time to board service with the John G. Shedd Aquarium, Leaders for Literacy and New Schools for Chicago, among other groups, says she feels fortunate to have the opportunity to contribute.

"I like what I do. I think I'm lucky because I have a variety of things on my plate," she says. "I'm always happy to do them --- sometimes a little frantic --- but I always get it done. I can't imagine not doing it."
See related story: Current students gain nonprofit experience through Kellogg program

Mark A. Fuller '83, a principal with Chicago-based investment firm William Blair & Co., sees his job, family and board service --- to his church as well as the Golden Apple Foundation and Springboard Foundation --- as the three legs of "life's stool." "I try hard to keep those legs in balance," he says. "It is an aspect of life that I consider to be very relevant to what I do. It is an opportunity to share some of the wonderful blessings and advantages that I have had in my life."

Martin's largest nonprofit focus has been St. Gregory School, a privately funded institution for boys that admits 25 per class, K-12, whose parents are willing to transport them to school and pay "a token amount per year --- a couple-hundred dollars," he says. "The strategy behind that is, 'one kid at a time.'"

Martin's most noteworthy contribution may be co-founding the St. Gregory's Council, an initiative that seeks to engage donors annually, encouraging them to continue their financial support for the school while feeling more connected to it, he explains.

Previously, Martin had served on the board of a similar but multi-school system called Marcy Newberry, where he created an auxiliary board to attract new funding.

"I've taken a couple different shots at this to try to make a dent" in education, Martin says. "I've always had an interest in figuring out how to improve the 'doom loop' --- the drugs, crime, poverty, lack-of-education circle." Once someone enters any part of that cycle, they quickly tend to be victimized by the other components, he says.

Martin's work with the Chicago Architectural Foundation began when he noticed "busload after busload" of school-aged children lining up to tour the Santa Fe Building, where his company is located. He inquired and found out the CAF privately funds more than 300,000 children to receive walking tours of the city and its architecture.

"The purpose is to give students a sense of appreciation for the city they live in," he says. "We're taking these kids through the city and saying, 'You're a part of this.' We hope this makes a difference. Our real goal is to help some kids consider becoming an architect or get involved in real estate when they grow up."

The thread through Searle's variegated work is also youth education. As a trustee at the Shedd, for example, she chairs the animal collections committee and once co-chaired the gala. "I love seeing the excitement on children's faces when they come in and say, 'Lady, where's the shark?'" Searle says. "I love the fact that it's an educational experience for folks who might never see the ocean."

Searle serves on the boards of two nonprofits devoted to greater choice and accountability in education: Leadership for Quality Education, historically focused on charter schools, but now looking at accountability issues; and New Schools for Chicago, which has raised $23 million for the 66 new contract and charter schools expected to be founded in Chicago in the next decade.

"I'm very interested in charter schools and providing some choice for families," Searle says, adding that the New Schools project made its first round of grants in February. "This is going to be an incredibly important project. It's going to change outlooks for families. Contract and charter schools have to be accountable, and they have to demonstrate performance --- and that means outcomes for families."

Perhaps Searle's most personally ambitious endeavor has been founding the organization Leaders for Literacy, which focuses on adult learners. A decade since its inception, the organization is approaching Searle's initial goal to find 100 people to donate $500 per year, which is the cost of tutoring one student. Luncheon speakers have included Caroline Kennedy, Julie Andrews, Barbara Bush and the adult learners themselves.

"Literacy is a core skill, one of those things that makes a difference in a life," Searle says. "It's really amazing, when you listen to [our clients'] stories, how much learning to read has changed their lives. It's so rewarding for me."

Searle says her Kellogg School marketing degree has also proved rewarding. "It's been extraordinarily helpful in all my charitable endeavors," she says. "Kellogg gave me the ability, or enhanced my ability, to come up with creative solutions."

For Fuller, giving back has meant service as trustee and executive committee member at the non-denominational Kenilworth Union Church, as well as to the Kellogg Alumni Advisory Board, where he has served for several years, participating in fund-raising campaigns and mentoring current students and recent graduates.

But his nonprofit service goes beyond organizations to which he's had personal ties, most notably the Golden Apple Foundation, which recognizes and supports the work of schoolteachers, and the Springboard Foundation, which provides "venture philanthropy" for new organizations dedicated to after-school programs.

Golden Apple, where Fuller has served on the board for more than a decade and the executive committee for several years, presents awards to excellent teachers and provides financial support and mentoring training for college students who want to become teachers.

"Teachers are generally expected to perform miracles under difficult circumstances," he says. "The Golden Apple Foundation is something that really resonated with me: I had young children, and I recognized how important the opportunity to get great teaching is, as a springboard to have a successful adult life."

As president and a founding member of the Springboard Foundation, Fuller develops leadership and sets strategy for a group of about 40 members who fund "emerging" not-for-profit agencies that want to launch after-school programs.

"Our model is that of a venture capital fund, which doesn't invest in big, liquid public entities but startups," he says. "We want to identify agencies that are early in life, often founder-based, and don't have a lot of resources."

Fuller says his Kellogg School education has been invaluable in doing this work. "If you think about the Kellogg model of working with others to solve problems, to create feedback mechanisms, to use interplay between people to do better things, all that plays into [what I've been trying to do with my board service]," he says.

"The Kellogg experience is one that helps all of us think as leaders, to have confidence, to set direction."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University