Each fall, a new class of University of Georgia MBA students arrives on campus with energy, curiosity and a desire to sharpen their executive skills. At the same time, many of Athens’ nonprofit organizations are looking for board members to apply various skills in service of the local community.
Andrew Salinas, UGA’s manager of the MBA Career Management Center, realized the two groups—MBA students and local nonprofits—could make a good pair. In 2017, he created the UGA MBA Nonprofit Board Fellows program, which helps local organizations interview and select MBA students to serve on two-year board terms.
“This initiative is meant to give nonprofit boards bigger benches—more players to work with, different perspectives, energy of a new generation on their board, more assets to complement the need of the nonprofit organization,” Salinas said. “MBA students are looking to contribute at an executive level, and the nonprofit organizations are looking for skillsets from working professionals and younger people to fill out their board needs. It is a win-win.”
Bernard Saunders was AACF’s first MBA board fellow, and he found his board term to be rewarding both professionally and personally.
Saunders had not served on a board before, but his Athens Area Community Foundation board membership connected him to the REACH Scholarship event for middle school students. The event encouraged middle schoolers to make a commitment to go to college and offered resources to support their education.
“I was really involved in the scholarship signing day because it spoke to the history of myself, being the first in my family to go to college,” Saunders said. “I understand those obstacles that are associated with being first gen. I was able to impart that knowledge to middle schoolers who faced similar challenges that I faced.”
Saunders completed his MBA and moved to Atlanta to work for PwC, and he has become involved in the Atlanta community, serving on the Southern Center of Human Rights board.
“I’ve been on that board for 3 1/2 years and rose to being the treasurer. I lead the investment of endowment and the cost-benefit analysis of how to use their building, am part of recruitment and fundraising, and speak to donors,” he said. “That would not have happened if not for the nonprofit board program working with the Athens Area Community Foundation.”
Other MBA students have found unique ways to apply their talents to board service. Jonathan Pelham, a member of the MBA Class of 2023, initially volunteered with Children First as a UGA undergraduate student. He returned to Athens to earn his MBA and joined Children First as a board fellow. A former UGA track star, Pelham also ran the 2022 Boston Marathon to raise funds for Children First.
“It has been a lot of fun to help propel the organization forward. Once you get the trust of the board and organization, it’s fun to put what you’re learning in school and see it roll out,” he said. “It’s a tight budget with big goals. Being able to implement those things and see it roll out over a two-year period is really exciting.”
More than 20 nonprofits have participated in the program, and most organizations return annually for new board fellows. The AACF is one of the program’s longstanding partners.
“This program is designed for mutual benefit, which probably is the most important aspect of the program,” said Sarah McKinney, AACF’s president and CEO. “These are all high-quality placements, high-quality opportunities to see a nonprofit business in action. It’s rooted in a deeper understanding of board service and the role nonprofits play in the community. These young people are going to be poised for board service wherever they land in their careers.”
With high levels of engagement from the nonprofits and the MBA students, Salinas is excited to continue the MBA Nonprofit Board Fellows Program and looks to expand the program’s reach. For instance, last year Salinas partnered with Victoria Prevatt, owner of Good Works Consulting, to provide the board fellows with board member training.
“It’s a phenomenal program from two perspectives,” Prevatt said. “One, it’s giving students the experiential learning opportunity of sitting in the board room. Two, the nonprofits get the perspectives of younger board members, giving our nonprofit community the diversity of thought and opinion that it needs and deserves.”