Social Impact at Booth: From Classroom to Boardroom

Participants of Chicago Booth's On Board 2017 Conference gather to talk

The energy in the room at Chicago Booth’s On Board conference was palpable; the buzz was interrupted only when Susan L. Axelrod, ’82, Founding Chair of Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE), took the stage. In her hour-long keynote conversation with Chicago Booth Review Editor-in-Chief Hal Weitzman, Axelrod spoke about what motivated her to form CURE and how her time at Booth intersected with the cause. She offered this advice to would-be nonprofit board members: “Before joining a board make sure you have the passion and can fill a need within the organization.” Looking around the room, it was clear that passion was present, and for the 475 attendees at On Board, this was a day for them to learn how to better meet the unique needs of the causes they care about.

Chicago Booth’s On Board conference launched in 2013 and is hosted by the Social Enterprise Initiative (SEI), a unique initiative supporting the aspirations of Chicago Booth students and alumni to impact societal issues. Now in its fourth year, On Board brings together Chicago’s business and nonprofit communities by speaking to varying levels of professional expertise and highlighting issues common among nonprofit organizations and their associated boards of directors. In this climate of uncertainty for nonprofits, vision and leadership in the boardroom are all the more important and On Board attempts to provide its attendees with the ability to recruit and empower board members while laying the groundwork to impact the health of their organizations and the nonprofit sector overall.

As the day continued, attendees heard from faculty members and nonprofit leaders. A few highlights included:  

Booth in the Boardroom

For the first year, On Board hosted a series of faculty-led sessions called “Booth in the Boardroom.” In these talks, Booth faculty presented their research on issues of importance to the nonprofit community. In “How the Free Market Changed Food Banking” Professor Canice John Prendergast applied free market principles to the food allocation system of a national nonprofit food bank. Professor Oleg Urminksy applied his findings from marketing research to help organizations think through framing their fundraising asks in his talk entitled “Good Marketer, Good Fundraiser.” In “Flipping the Volunteerism Switch,” Professor George Wu used principles from the fields of economics and psychology to help nonprofit leaders better understand the motivations behind volunteering.

Big Tent: Building a culture that promotes diversity and inclusion

Panelists at Chicago Booth's On Board 2017 Conference discuss diversity

The other sessions ranged from panels to presentations and provided participants the opportunity to discuss the many facets of running a successful nonprofit. Topics included how to hire high-performing staff on a razor thin budget, how to recognize the life stages of your board, and how to best leverage professional and personal networks to benefit your organization. In “Big Tent: Building a Culture that Promotes Diversity and Inclusion,” a panel of nonprofit leaders in different roles discussed the importance of board diversity and how it impacts the work of the nonprofit sphere. Michelle Bess of Sprout Social suggested using data to make arguments for more diversity.

In the Executive MBA Program, we are excited to support and leverage SEI’s work. Many of our students and alumni are board-ready, and will be able to tap into SEI’s resources through SEI office hours held in downtown Chicago, close to our Gleacher Center campus. SEI’s reach is extending globally, too. In November 2016, Chicago Booth announced a $30 million grant from the Hong Kong Jockey Club to support the Chicago Booth Executive MBA program located in Hong Kong, and social sector programming operated there by SEI. We are excited to see how our students and alumni tap into SEI’s resources in the future, creating impact world-wide.