After consistently hearing from grantees struggling to find board members with a full understanding of the expectations and responsibilities of nonprofit board leadership, Chicago Foundation for Women launched the Board Member Boot Camp program in 2011.
Board Member Boot Camp is a comprehensive, two-and-a-half day training and evening networking event for those interested in nonprofit board service, but with limited or no experience on nonprofit boards. Through the interactive training, participants gain an understanding of board roles and responsibilities, nonprofit financials, and fundraising best practices through workshops, activities and panel discussions with current nonprofit board members.
Nyla Diab had recently joined the board of Esperanza Health Centers when she decided to enroll in Board Member Boot Camp in 2015. She initially joined the board “to contribute and give back in a meaningful way” and to support “work that needs to be done to make sure communities continue to have access to quality affordable healthcare,” Nyla says.
“My career background had always been in nonprofits and so I’ve always been on the other side,” Nyla says. “Getting some of that initial understanding and vocabulary was very helpful. If you’ve not spent any time on a board or close to a board, it may feel a little daunting.”
“Board Member Boot Camp gave me a great deal more confidence, specifically focusing on the fundraising and visibility raising, leveraging your personal and professional network for the mission of the board you serve on.”
Nyla now serves as president of the Esperanza Health Centers board, and is helping guide the organization through a $20 million capital campaign. Board Member Boot Camp left her feeling “more sure footed,“ she says. “I feel better situated to continue in this role after the capital campaign is over.”
In addition to learning about board roles, Board Member Boot Camp engages future board members in conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion in board development.
“One of the goals of Board Member Boot Camp is to increase the number of women, particularly women of color, serving on nonprofit boards,” says Eli Marsh, Philanthropic Education Officer at CFW. “We wanted to be intentional about including a focus on gender and racial equity in our training to explore how board members can really show up for equity, and to give them the tools to implement practices that promote equity at an individual, organizational and structural level.”
The Board Member Boot Camp curriculum includes conversations about promoting equity in the boardroom and evaluating equity in hiring practices, investment policy, board recruitment and donor engagement.
Women and people of color are especially encouraged to participate in Board Member Boot Camp, in order to build a pipeline and grow the pool of potential and future board members. During Board Member Boot Camp, participants meet with local organizations to explore ways to begin their nonprofit board service.
Malik Gillani, Executive Director of CFW grantee Silk Road Rising, credits the Board Member Boot Camp Networking Night with connecting his organization to two new female board members. “We met with several candidates that were exciting to us and were a good fit with our organizational needs and values,” Malik says. “There is no way we’d have met these two amazing people outside of the networking event.”
Since 2011, Board Member Boot Camp has graduated 297 members. Approximately one in three graduates have joined a Board of Directors or taken steps to join a board. An additional nine percent have joined an associate or advisory board – a first step to eventually joining a board of directors.