Periodically, the Wharton Leadership Program blog likes to bring you stories straight from students’ own experiences with our programs. We’ve interviewed one of our Nonprofit Board Fellows, Ashley Blackmon, a 2nd year MBA student serving on the board of Equality Forum, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance national and international gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) civil rights through education.
The Nonprofit Board Leadership Program places MBA students on the boards of local nonprofit organizations, where they serve for about 12 months, providing a learning experience for students and hopefully lasting impact for our partner organizations.
How does your experience to this point compare to the goals you set for yourself last spring?
My experience has exceeded my expectations. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was getting into when I went to my first board meeting this fall. I’ve been able to witness the changes in board politics as the board gets closer to the organization’s headline event this spring, The Global LGBT Summit (April 25th – May 1st). Early in the fall I was also offered a full board membership, which included voting rights. I did not anticipate this, but this helped me get more involved in the decision making process.
What things have you accomplished in your fellowship?
Throughout my fellowship, I have been involved in a wide range of strategic designs. Among other things, I’ve been working with the board to decide on new bylaws for board governance; I’ve helped select the 31 icons for LGBT History month; I have helped negotiate strategic issues relating to Equality Forum operations and partnerships; and I have helped the board select speakers for the Global LGBT Summit. More recently, I’ve been working on forging a more intimate connection between Equality Forum and Wharton. This spring, Equality Forum, OutForBusiness and the WGA will host a screening of “Gay Pioneers,” a 30 minute documentary on the first organized annual ‘homosexual’ civil rights demonstrations. Frank Kameny, who is featured in the film and is considered the Father of the Gay Rights movement, will be our special guest. I’m very excited that this film will help build stronger ties between Equality Forum and Wharton, and I am also thrilled to help provide historical context to workplace inequality to the Wharton community, which perhaps has not yet had significant exposure to the LGBT civil rights movement. In the next few months at Equality Forum, I’ll be helping with the Global LGBT Summit by hosting panels and helping with special events.
In what ways have you grown and what ways has your fellowship impacted your leadership abilities?
When I joined the program, I knew that I needed to listen and learn to find the best way to help the board. It took me about three meetings before I felt that I understood the dynamics of the group and how these personalities impacted the decision-making process. In retrospect, I wish I were a bit more assertive in the first few meetings. I’ve since become more engaged with the process and this resulted in the board offering me a voting seat. Through this experience I’ve seen the value of diplomatically asserting my opinions and thoughts (even when I’m not the most seasoned member of the group).
Ashley Blackmon will graduate from Wharton in May 2011, and will continue to serve on nonprofit boards as part of her lifelong commitment to service.