Berkeley Board Fellows Launches Largest Cohort

A record 93 Berkeley graduate students will serve on nonprofit boards of directors this spring as part of the Berkeley Board Fellows Program operated by the Haas School's Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership.

Seventy-one Haas students and 22 students from other UC Berkeley units—including law, public policy, and public health—will learn the ropes with the boards of 49 Bay Area nonprofits.

The program launched with an event Wed., Oct. 24, attended by 180 students and organization board members. Organizations participating this year include Audubon Canyon Ranch, the Oakland Museum of California, the Center for Digital Storytelling, Friends of the Urban Forest, Larkin Street Youth Services, and the Marin Humane Society.

Aaron Perez, MBA 13, is beginning his second experience with Berkeley Board Fellows. He hopes to launch his own youth-focused nonprofit and says he participated to understand the governance aspect of nonprofit organizations. “This was a wonderful way to get a low-risk look at what that world is like,” he says.

Perez worked last year with the board of the Jewish Community Centers (JCC) of the East Bay. He’s back for a second year after completing a project through the Social Sector Solutions (S3) course with Jewish Family and Children's Services of the East Bay, who asked him and S3 teammate Jessica Felts, MBA 13, to help the organization become part of the Board Fellows Program and serve as their fellows.

Perez says having two different experiences gave him the chance to work with two different kinds of boards—one made up of highly active members helping an organization through a major transition and one that has been in place longer and is more governance-focused.

Board fellows receive training at Haas, attend board meetings, and complete a project on a critical board need. Perez, for example, worked on a marketing strategy project for JCC, working directly with the board chair and the organization's director. “It’s clearly beneficial to see into an organization at that level,” he says.

For the many nonprofit repeat clients, the Board Fellows Program offers the opportunity to build upon the work of the fellows from year to year, according to John Zowin, a program mentor and member of the board of trustees of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County.

“In the first year, our project focused on the administrative basics of any organization, such as job descriptions and policies and procedures,” says Zowin. Projects then moved on to re-branding and rewriting and implementing a long-term strategic plan.

“Now that we know who we are and have a foundation and road map in place, we want to have a mission-critical project on revenue generation and asset utilization,” Zowin adds. He says that seeing the work of past board fellows gives students a better understanding of the organization and increases the long-term success of St. Vincent de Paul.

Nora Silver, director of the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership, has certainly seen numerous positive outcomes for both students and organizations since the Berkeley Board Fellows Program launched in 2003.  "The program involves everyone—students, faculty as instructors, alumni as coaches and board mentors, and nonprofits devoted to social impact," Silver says. "Berkeley Board Fellows prepares students to serve as leaders on key issues, across sectors, starting in the communities in which they live.”

Learn more about the Berkeley Board Fellows Program