Getting Students engaged through Board Fellows Programmes

(This blog is part 1 of a 3 part series looking Board Fellow Programmes)

As schools look towards providing experiential learning opportunities for students, many schools in the US are pairing up with not-for-profits in the community to provide students with the opportunity to become non-voting, volunteer board members. The first Board Fellows Program was started in 1997 by six MBA students at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

For students, it provides the opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of the role of business leaders on nonprofit boards, offers them the chance to engage with the community and develop skills for effective leadership. Most importantly, it provides them with the opportunity to apply classroom learning to the real world. For the partner organisations, it provides the opportunity to connect with talented business leaders with fresh ideas and develop relationships with candidates for possible future board or staff positions. Crummer Graduate School of Business has been running their Nonprofit Board Membership Program for MBAs since 2006. The program, which had over 30 students in 2010, is done in partnership with the Crummer School’s Philanthropy and Non-Profit Leadership Center. Since 75% of Crummer graduates remain in Central Florida, the programme also helps to create stronger links between graduates and the nonprofits.

In order to be selected, students are required to submit an application and go through an interview process. Once accepted, students are assigned a board member to be their mentor.  The time commitment is approximately10-12 hours per month over a 7 month to 1 year time span.  The Kellogg Board Fellows combines two courses in board governance with a year long practicum as a non-voting board member. Approximately 50 fellows are chosen each year and are matched with Chicago-area non-profit boards for 15 months, beginning at the end of the fellow’s first year and continuing through their second year. During the first year, students explore aspects of board governance through lectures, guest speakers, case readings and simulations. In the second year, students participate in small group sessions to share experiences from their current board service and study additional aspects of board governance, such as fundraising and personnel selection.

Students on Board Fellows Programmes are supported through workshop training, peer networking sessions and ongoing coaching from staff and faculty. Many also require students to complete specific projects. The Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business runs the Kenneth R. Woodcock Fellows Program in partnership with Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. As part of the program, MBA students work with board members to complete a strategic leadership project while gaining experience solving real world ethics and leadership issues outside the classroom.

Quite a number of Board Fellows Programmes have been started in the past couple of years. Before Babson began their Board Fellows Programme in 2011, they researched student interest through surveys, and found that many students sought opportunities to give back, to network, and primarily to gain experience. Examples of projects that fellows worked on in 2011 included CEO selection and evaluation, best practice benchmarking, board evaluation, planned giving strategies, research on potential expansion and 10 year strategic planning. At Babson, the program is managed by Lewis Institute and supported by Net Impact Students.

For more information on how to start a board fellows programme the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth College created a Manual on how to start a board fellows program, which includes a range of best practice examples.  They have been running their program for roughly 10 years.

(Part 2 and 3 will feature interviews with current coordinators and fellows.)

Do you have a Board Fellows Programme or something similar your school? Share your stories below in the comments area.


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