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Carroll School of Management Graduate Programs

Board Fellows learn the business of not making a profit

Governance board

March 21, 2012

By J.M. Berger

For many students, getting an MBA is all about the profit. Take that away, and what’s left? A different kind of learning experience.

“It’s a way to get involved in extracurriculars without just simply sitting in lectures and being a passive participant,” said Michael Leitzel, class of 2012, director of the BC chapter of Board Fellows. “Board Fellows lets you spend your time outside the classroom doing something tangible.”

The Carroll School of Management is one of several institutions around the country taking part in the Net Impact Board Fellows program, which sends MBA students to serve on nonprofit boards, giving back to the community while also benefiting from a unique learning experience.

“It’s definitely a diverse setting from what I was used to being in,” said Dave Mareiro, a member of the class of 2012. As part of Board Fellows, Mareiro worked with OneWorld Classrooms, a nonprofit that provides digital media and communication links between students in the United States and in the Amazon rainforest basin.

“It definitely gave me more of an understanding of what nonprofits actually have to go through,” said Mareiro. “I was used to for-profits where you say, ‘OK, here’s what your budget is, let’s put these things into action. At a nonprofit, it’s well, here’s what we want to do, and how do we make that happen, because we have zero funding?”

OneWorld launched in 2009 and the participating fellows have been an integral part of defining the organization’s structure and mission. Two more students joined the board for the current term.

“It’s been really good having the Board Fellows in that process,” said Paul Hurteau, director of OneWorld. “As we kind of build the organizational structure, they’ve been giving us input on best practices, marketing, and that kind of thing.”

About 15 or 20 Carroll students take part in the program each year, contributing 10 or 15 hours per month to partner organizations. Students are offered a choice among several nonprofits with a relationship to the program, or they can take the initiative to bring an organization to the table.

Working as a fellow includes attending all board meetings at the sponsor organization, along with taking on special projects.

Eileen Holcomb, class of 2012, is in her second year working with the Wellesley Education Foundation, a nonprofit focused on serving and enhancing public schools in Wellesley, Mass., by providing grants to teachers who want to launch special programs.

“I enjoy volunteering my time, but it's nice to have a different perspective on how things are actually run for a non-profit rather than just volunteering for the events and fundraisers themselves,” said Holcomb. “I see what goes into them.”

Last year, she helped the board work on increasing its donor base. This year, she and another fellow are helping the Foundation create a useful presence on social media.

Linda H. Chow, a board member, said that the program is a boon to participating organizations in addition to the real-world education it provides students. 

“In a matter of weeks, they put together a handbook for us, and we actually just got that from them earlier this week,” Chow said. “It’s terrific.”

“I didn't realize how challenging it is to get the technology pieces of non-profits up and running,” Holcomb said.  “Working in the corporate world, I've taken for granted company websites for finding information without thinking about the time it takes to do that, especially without the technical expertise in-house.”