What makes a good Board Fellow? I get this question a lot. There are many ways to look at what it means to be a Board Fellow. First, let me tell you what our Babson Board Fellows program is:
The Babson Board Fellows program is really a great experience for MBA students and alumni. Basically, it’s an experiential learning program that places Babson MBA students and alumni as nonvoting members of nonprofit boards. The nonprofits benefit from fresh insight as well as from student contributions to board committees and special projects. Students benefit from exposure to board-level decision making, mentorship, and project experience. The goals of the program are to support local nonprofits, to build a culture of service within the Babson MBA community, and to give Babson students another opportunity to put their MBA skills into practice.
So here are five ways to be a good Board Fellow:
1. Do Your Research and Be Prepared
Take time to read the organization’s vision and mission statements. Ask for copies of the last six board meeting minutes, including the financial statements. Request a current list of board members and committee members. Review brochures, articles, and notable achievements of the organization. Ask if they have a board manual and a copy of the bylaws. Talk with your mentor before going to a board meeting. Be prepared when you attend your first board meeting. Commit to the meeting’s date and time and do not leave early. Ask your mentor what the meeting dress code is and dress appropriately. If you find there is a meeting you cannot attend, see if you can call in—and again, call your mentor to let them know your meeting plan.
2. Listen, Absorb, and Then Communicate
When you finally attend a board meeting, listening is the best thing you can do to really learn about your nonprofit. Listen to the board members engage with each other. See how they communicate. Take notes about anything you are not understanding. Sitting back and watching, looking, and listening are the best ways to really get to know your nonprofit and the board members.
“Being inspired by the caliber of people—what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, how they’re managing it—gave us a fresh perspective.” said Vadim Manokhin MBA’19, board fellow at CommonWealth Kitchen. “You’re not there to manage the day-to-day operations. You’re there to help them think strategically about what’s coming in the next five years. Thinking like a board, thinking like an executive.”
3. Be Curious
There are no stupid questions. Always ask questions and, more importantly, listen to the responses. If you are in a board meeting and there is a conversation happening that you just don’t understand what it is about, make a note and ask your mentor after the meeting. You will get more comfortable as you listen, engage, and ask.
Go into the nonprofit and see the day-to-day happenings. Meet the staff. If the nonprofit includes children or veterans, meet them. If it involves food, eat! Make yourself available and interested in every aspect of the corporation. This is the best way to truly get a feel for the nonprofit.
4. Know What Your Strengths Are
What is your leadership style? Organizational structure? Management style? Are you good with numbers? Are you good at public relations and marketing? As an MBA student or alumni, you have many if not all of these skills to leverage your engagement to help your board and its mission.
“Being exposed to an organization at a point of transition where the donor pool was changing and the organization was deciding its strategic path forward, I was able to execute a Babson golf event, raising funds for the nonprofit,” said Josh Wolfson MBA’19, board fellow at Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly.
5. Connect With Your Cohort
What makes Babson Board Fellows unique from other programs around the country is our cohort model. Board Fellows have the opportunity to meet all together a few times a year. We discuss everyone’s nonprofit and problem solve. We talk about the good, the bad, and common challenges in the boardroom and the social sector. Bouncing ideas off of each other is so valuable to maximizing your board fellow experience.
As director of the program, my mission is to unite Babson host nonprofits and Board Fellows to make sure everyone has a successful year together. Always use me as your sounding board and liaison throughout the year.
“Babson’s Board Fellows program exposed me to the inner workings of a nonprofit board and the importance of private-public partnerships that enable social and economic change. My experience helped me better understand the critical role business leaders play in the nonprofit ecosystem, beyond donations,” said David Mungai MBA’17, board fellow at The BASE.