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New perspectives, new resources: Business on Board trains future board members

December 18, 2020 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose
In 2021, Business on Board will enter its 22nd year of training business professionals to serve as board members for arts and culture nonprofits throughout the city.

The program is run by the Arts + Business Council for Greater Philadelphia and consists of six virtual sessions that run from Jan. 22 to May 7 and cover various leadership development topics.

“We introduce board governance,” said Liz Thompson, programs manager, Creative Community Leadership Development, at the Arts + Business Council.

Liz Thompson.

Some of the topics covered in Business on Board also include fundraising, legal responsibilities, financial and fiduciary responsibilities, communication and “how to bring your best self into a leadership role,” she added.

Participants are each matched up with an arts and culture nonprofit, Thompson said, forming a relationship called an “observership,” in which participants get to learn more about a nonprofit in the hopes of being elected to its board at the end of the cycle.

There are typically about 50 participants and organizations part of each Business on Board cycle. So far some of the organizations participating in 2021 include:  Azuka Theatre, The Center for Art in Wood, BalletX and the Fleisher Art Memorial. Applications for this upcoming cycle for both participants and organizations are open until Dec. 31.

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“As a program we take the time to make sure that everyone feels good about how they’re going into this responsibility,” Thompson said, “and they feel like they spent the time with the organization to know that it’s the right fit.”

Thompson said the observership experience makes Business on Board different from other board leadership and development programs.

Rachel Wonder.

Rachel Wonder, senior membership advisor for The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, participated in the 2020 cycle of Business on Board, and said her observership with The Fabric Workshop and Museum was an impactful part of her experience.

“It started out with a phone call with their director of development just to learn a bit more about what they were looking for in a board member and about the institution,” she said. “Then I observed the February board meeting [and] had an opportunity to sit in as a guest.”

Wonder now serves on The Fabric Workshop and Museum’s board on the Development Committee and as the board liaison for the Education and Accountability Committee.

Wonder said she was drawn to Business on Board because of her love for the arts. “I previously have worked in auction houses, galleries and museums, so I kind of always had my eye on it,” she said.

Christine Ramsay.

Christine Ramsay, founder of Ignite Inclusion, LLC and global senior diversity, equity, inclusion leader at Jazz Pharmaceuticals, was similarly drawn to the program because of her connection to the arts. She will be part of the 2021 cohort of participants

Ramsay grew up as the daughter of Armenian immigrants, learning about music from her mother, a classical pianist. “I became very in tune with music and art and culture growing up and when I found this program, I really wanted to be able to give back,” she said.

Ramsay said she is excited to learn about the nonprofit world, specifically leadership structures, finances and community partnerships. She hopes to bring her for-profit experience to the organization she is paired with, as well as her passion for diversity, equity and inclusion, with a particular interest in disability and neurodiverse communities.

 “That’s part of a leader,” Ramsay said, “having those habits and the mindsets of, ‘How are we providing equitable opportunities for those within the sector [of] arts and culture? How are we inclusive of all various backgrounds?’”

Diversity, equity and inclusion will have a prominent role in this cycle’s programming, Thompson said, as an inclusive framework is being applied to all topics.

“It is a personal priority of mine as a woman of color,” she said, noting her past grassroots and nonprofit experience with the Asian Arts Initiative. “I also acknowledge that it’s especially important this year with the civil unrest that’s been happening.”

In the 2021 cycle, Amy Smith and Faith Jones-Jackson — both artists, educators and facilitators — will lead the session “Power, Privilege and Bias and Board Recruitment,” which will focus on identifying bias and power dynamics, among other topics.

Fundraising will be another focus of upcoming sessions.

The Business on Board programming enables participants to learn from each other, and to share perspectives and networks. (Courtesy photo)

“I’ve dedicated a significant portion of our program to not just learning what fundraising is for a board member,” Thompson said, “but time for folks to practice those skills and to learn from each other and be able to work on how they would represent an organization in a conversation, and how they would in practice tap into their personal network.”

Wonder remembers learning about fundraising in the 2020 cycle during a session with Valerie Jones, author of Nonprofit Hero: Five Easy Steps to Successful Board Fundraising.

Wonder said the session focused specifically on how to fundraise during the COVID-19 pandemic and “how to make sure that you’re still able to ask for money in a sensitive and appropriate way, when you know that there’s challenging times.”

Thompson believes Business on Board can be especially impactful during this time as the arts and culture sector has struggled during the ongoing pandemic.

“The arts and culture sector has been especially hit by this year,” she said. “The fact that the Arts + Business Council can be a bridge between business professionals and the arts and culture sector, I think can be very impactful in terms of bringing in new perspectives and new leadership and new resources.”

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