The Board Fellow Experience
Matching MBA and JD Students with Philadelphia’s Nonprofit Organizations
Students with no prior nonprofit board experience are eligible to apply for the Nonprofit Board Fellowship.
The experience of Nonprofit Board Fellows is rooted in the program’s commitment to serving nonprofit organizations in the Philadelphia area, and upon selection board fellows enter into an experiential learning environment unlike any other at the University. The fellowship combines nonprofit service with personal development and membership in a community of like-minded peers.
We expect each fellow to uphold 3 equally important pillars of the program:
- Participate positively with their partner board and organization;
- Contribute actively to the wider board fellows community; and
- Engage purposefully in personal leadership development.
The ideal fellowship experience is one that creates mutual benefit for the nonprofit organization, the student, and the wider board fellows community.
Role of Visiting Board Member
After being matched with one of our nonprofit partner organizations, fellows take up the role of a nonvoting, visiting board member. Although “visiting” does not necessarily connote dynamic participation, we expect fully that fellows engage actively with their boards to reflect the experiential nature of the role. We intend for their experience to be defined by two equally important duties:
- Visiting Board Members should be continuously learning and developing over the duration of the fellowship;
- Visiting Board Members should be contributing positively to the work of the board, in a scope determined through mutual agreement with the board.
In contrast with your elected board members, visiting board members cannot engage in two expectations of full board membership. Namely, they may not:
- register a vote (i.e., as an elected member votes) on matters relating to the work of the organization, the board, and any board subcommittee; or
- be expected to make a financial commitment to an organization (i.e., participate in an annual give/get, or be included in board giving statistics).
However, visiting board members will be expected to attend all board meetings, should serve as an active member of a board subcommittee as applicable, and are expected to participate in all board discussions and initiatives as appropriate.
Board Fellow Commitment & Timeline
On average, the Board Fellows commitment is time intensive. During the first academic year (March-May) of participation, fellows are required to:
- attend a new class kickoff event
- attend and actively participate in a two-day training in April
- meet with a coordinator for a 1-on-1 during the board matching process
- attend the annual end-of-year dinner
- make initial contact with their matched nonprofit for introduction and work scoping
- participate in an NBF program subcommittee
During the second academic year (September-May), board fellows report dedicating an average range of 10-15 hours per month in these required activities:
- attending all full board and subcommittee meetings of matched board
- attending and actively participating in full-day training in September
- attending and actively participating in 2 on-campus meetings each month
- participating in a program subcommittee
- attending the annual end-of-year dinner
In support of their role as visiting board members, Board Fellows are offered a training program that spans their 14-month commitment. The training topics fall under three umbrellas:
- the nonprofit sector;
- nonprofit governance, and
- leadership development
In the past, specific topics have included:
- nonprofit sector overview
- basic roles and responsibilities of nonprofit boards
- ethical concepts in nonprofit governance
- scope and depth of philanthropy in the US
- grants and grantmaking
- program measurement & evaluation
- effective communication
- team performance
- organizational assessment
- group dynamics
- strategic persuasion
Fellow-Board Matching Process
The goal of the match is twofold: to match each board fellow with a board doing work (s)he cares about, and achieving a combination of matches that is optimal for the entire group. To achieve both, we follow this process:
- Each fellow is given a copy of the matching pack, which includes information about the ~60 organizations that have applied to host a member of their class. Fellows have a week to look through the pack, and is asked to identify 10-12 boards (s)he is interesting in serving.
- Fellows meet for a 1-on-1 with a member of the Executive Committee to discuss their choices; fellows are coached to ensure his/her final list of 8 boards align with stated interests, learning goals, etc.
- Fellows submit a list of 8 boards in rank order.
- The associate director runs the choices of the entire group through an Excel optimization, which matches each fellow within the optimal happiness of group.
- The associate director separately informs the organization and board fellow of the match; then sends an email of introduction.
- Each fellow is responsible to respond to the introductory email within 48 hours. The fellow manages the relationship (with support as needed) from that point on.
Each fellow participates in one of 4 subcommittees that all work to improve the fellow’s experience by incorporating the collective voice of fellows into program decisions. The standing subcommittees are:
- Selection – Participate in selection of the new class of Board Fellows by reading and evaluating applications, interviewing and evaluating candidates, and making selection suggestions to the Executive Committee.
- Training – Improve Board Fellow trainings by: analyzing training feedback, surveying Fellows for desired changes, and suggesting adjustments to frequency, timing, topics and delivery of trainings.
- Nonprofit Partnerships – Improve fellow board service experience by: analyzing board service feedback, tracking fellow successes & challenges, suggesting optimal board and organization profile, and suggesting changes to matching process.
- Community Building – Build sense of community and affinity among board fellows by planning social events, creating a system to recognize fellow successes, and integrating fellows into the nonprofit community in Philadelphia.
Top 6 Board Fellow Attributes