Some people might call Maureen Cannon a perfect matchmaker. For more than 10 years, she has been connecting Temple University graduate students with mission-driven nonprofit organizations to deliver outcomes that make a difference in their communities.
Cannon does this as part of her work with the Fox Board Fellows program at the Fox School of Business. The elective graduate level course partners students with a nonprofit organization in the region for a community-based, experiential learning experience that benefits everyone.
Students are matched with a nonprofit organization and serve as nonvoting members of the board of directors. This gives fellows a first-hand look at the real-world challenges before the board and provides them with an opportunity to apply their skills and expertise in a variety of ways. In exchange, the board assigns a mentor to guide the student by providing institutional knowledge and access to the organization’s inner workings. This mutually beneficial relationship has allowed this program to flourish since 2011.
The program has fostered partnerships with over 95 local nonprofit organizations that have benefitted from the work of more than 180 Fox Board Fellows.
Tell us a little about you and your role at the Fox School.
I am the senior associate director at Fox Management Consulting, the Fox School’s MBA capstone course. I’ve been involved with the Fox Board Fellows program since it began in 2011 and I now help ensure the program’s success with the help of Fox School faculty and former fellows. Each year, we select candidates to be part of the Fox Board Fellows program and support both the student and the nonprofit through the partnership process.
How did Fox Board Fellows begin?
Fox Board Fellows started at the beginning of the 2010-2011 academic year at the request of a handful of MBA students who were involved with another student organization, Fox Net Impact. That group was designed for students who were looking for opportunities where business and social good can come together. But the students also wanted to have a board of directors training program. They heard from their peers at other schools about a board training program and they wanted to have it here too. My predecessor, Anne Bayless, worked with TL Hill, managing director of Fox Management Consulting, to create Fox Board Fellows. I had the good fortune of being an advisor to the program early on, so I was able to help shape it into what it is today.
How can students get involved in the Fox Board Fellows program?
We run several information sessions from late November to mid-December where interested students come and we talk about the program. Alumni often attend and share their thoughts on what the program could mean for the students. Then there’s an application launch where students really start to make a case for themselves on why they would be a good candidate for the program.
What is the interviewing process like for students who apply for the Fox Board Fellows program?
We set up 30-minute interviews with the candidates and I invite alumni to come and join me for those interviews. We are really trying to understand what’s motivating the students to join the program and what their areas of interest are. Ideal candidates demonstrate curiosity, motivation to stretch outside of their comfort zone, a desire to share their talents with a nonprofit organization and a drive to stretch themselves in ways that make them stronger or more polished leaders.
How are partnership organizations brought on board?
We have a core group of nonprofits that hosts fellows every year. Other nonprofits come to us through networking. Sometimes, fellows already have a connection to a nonprofit and I encourage that partnership when it’s appropriate. If a fellow brings their own organization into the program, that is often a nice way to allow the fellow and the organization to deepen their relationship.
What makes an organization a good partner for Fox Board Fellows?
Fox Board Fellows nonprofit partners have an authentic interest in engaging and mentoring the next generation of nonprofit board leaders. These partners are interested in infusing their board of directors with new and diverse perspectives and have one or more members willing to mentor a Fox Board Fellow. In return, the board receives a pro bono project on a topic that is of strategic importance to the organization.
How do you match a new fellow with a nonprofit? What are the criteria?
We are looking for passion and commitment, it’s as simple as that. A nonprofit organization has a mission and it’s important that the fellow has a deep commitment to the mission and really cares about what their organization is doing.
What role does the Fox Board Fellow play in the organization and its board?
As a mature working professional and graduate student, a Fox Board Fellow brings energy, business experience, resources and a diverse perspective to their host nonprofit organization. Fellows are often credited with infusing a board with fresh energy. As a nonvoting working member, a fellow attends board meetings and contributes through a project that is of strategic importance to the organization and board of directors. Fellows may also be invited to attend committee meetings and possibly join a committee related to the fellow’s project. Fox Board Fellows have co-ownership over their learning and the opportunity to demonstrate their value to their host nonprofit and the board.
What drives you to continue the program?
The impact. When we talk about impact, it’s beyond the number of students who have completed the program. Impact comes in the form of “aha” moments when the students understand something more clearly or for the first time and can apply that learning. I love the win-win nature of Fox Board Fellows and believe it is core to the program’s success. Fellows learn a lot from their host nonprofit and the nonprofit gains perspective, resources and project work of strategic significance. Fellows contribute much throughout the fellowship and many go on to serve on nonprofit boards after their fellowship.