A seat at a nonprofit table leads to experiential learning for Fox Board Fellows

November 21, 2019 //

“You don’t get the same effect when you are exclusively in a classroom,” says current Fellow Colin O’Shea.

Student running in race
Girls on the Run is one of the participating nonprofits in the Fox Board Fellows program. [Courtesy of Girls on the Run]
Learning by doing is the way Temple University’s Fox Board Fellows get things done. 

Since 2011, more than 95 nonprofit organizations in the Philadelphia area have benefitted from the work done by more than 180 graduate students at the Fox School of Business.

“This is a really rich relationship from our perspective,” Professor T.L. Hill, managing director of Fox Management Consulting (FMC), says. “It’s the best way for our students to learn as well as provide good service to the nonprofits.”

After an application and interview process, graduate students are placed on nonprofit boards as visiting, non-voting members. Fellows then work with their partner nonprofits on a higher-level project and produce a research report as part of the elective Non-Profit Governance graduate course taught by Hill.

In the latest cohort, 18 students in several programs were matched with 18 nonprofits serving a range of communities and interests in the Delaware Valley. The fellows work with their organization over the course of an academic year, allowing participants to gain an in-depth understanding of board governance and practice effective board membership.

“You don’t get the same effect when you are exclusively in a classroom,” says current fellow Colin O’Shea. “So being able to actually sit on the board of an organization is such a deep dive and a great opportunity and learning experience.”

O’Shea is now part of the effort at Philadelphia Youth Basketball, a sports-based youth development organization that works to create opportunities for young people to reach their potential as students, athletes and positive leaders.

“We are really looking forward to this opportunity,” says Diana Venezia, MS ’17, director of development at the organization. “These past few months have been a time of learning for all of us and we are really excited.”

Stressing that this experience goes deeper than an internship, Hill encourages nonprofit leaders to challenge their fellows by allowing them to delve into what he calls the “ownership and institutional pressures” required to meet an organization’s mission. 

Philadelphia Youth Basketball team
Philadelphia Youth Basketball is a nonprofit organization focused on empowering young people as students, athletes and positive leaders. [Courtesy Philadelphia Youth Basketball]
The ownership pressures have to do with whether or not a nonprofit has the assets and the foundation to do what the work it wants to do. The institutional pressures involve culture on both the board and within the organization and it stakeholders.

“These are areas where there might be really interesting, useful projects that will help the board and the organization move forward in a way that the nonprofit might not have the capacity to think about,” Hill says.

The program is structured around a series of four Saturday seminars at Temple’s Main Campus as well as time the fellows spend working directly with their nonprofit. The seminar topics cover the basic governance issues that many boards face including nonprofit economics, impact measurement, management of the executive director and finances. 

 “Depending on the projects the students are working on, special topics also emerge,” Hill says.

In the past there have been discussions about earned income streams, leadership succession and merger discussions.

“Throughout it all, the project and the research is the core piece,” Hill says, adding that the overall experience prepares the fellows for future board service.

Fellow Chris Barba, who has been paired with the Montgomery and Delaware County-based nonprofit Girls on the Run, will be working on several areas including program growth, fundraising and overall strategy.

The organization, with international headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, uses a curriculum-based program that creatively integrates running to deliver a social, emotional and motivational learning experience.

“I have, and will always have, a social sector top-of-mind focus and Fox Board Fellows allows me the opportunity to continue to do this work.” 

“I’m excited to really contribute to the goal of how to make growth happen for this organization,” Barba says.

Tracy Ashdale, founder and executive director of the local council, believes in the power of the experience the fellow has on both themselves and her organization.

“The fellows bring a level of curiosity and inquiry with them,” Ashdale, BSW ’92, MSW ’94,  says. “The experience offers the opportunity to see things differently from what we generally see. That often translates into innovation for our organization.”

Venezia adds the original project Philadelphia Youth Basketball had in mind went through some changes and evolved as O’Shea and the organization got to know each other better.

“Our original idea pivoted from an analysis of our donor database and email strategy to a new focus on volunteer engagement and streamlining that process,” she says. “There is a huge opportunity for growth for us and it can be a missed opportunity.

“But after our both our internal conversations and our meetings with Colin, we have a better idea now of what we need and where we need to go. Colin gets us and that’s great for everyone.”

For more information about the program, contact Maureen Cannon, maureen.cannon@temple.edu.

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