A Village Approach to Non-Profit Board Development
By Larry Patrick, Partner – PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP & Board Governance Committee Chair & Chair-Elect of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta
I joined the Board of Directors for Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA) in 2015, however my involvement with the Club spans decades. I am the Club’s realized potential. It is said that it takes a village to raise a child. Well despite what outsiders may have assumed from the surface, I was blessed with an incredible village starting with my mother and father – but then life showed up. I remember it vividly. At 12 years of age, I was riding in the truck with my dad leaving his construction site. He pulled over rather abruptly and he said, “Son, I need you to drive.” At 12, I was already nearly 6ft tall, but had never driven a car other than on my parent’s lap. Unbeknownst to me and my siblings, my dad had long suffered with glaucoma and on this day the silent killer, as the disease is often referred, had taken its toll. My Dad was legally blind. My father, at 6ft 7 and 270lbs, a home builder by trade, my hero and the breadwinner for our family became completely dependent on us for basic daily chores and was never able to work a day again in his life. My mother, still the strongest person I have ever met, took two jobs and the neighborhood aunts, uncles and friends all kicked in to support where needed. My village mobilized, but as a young man coming of age in the inner city, temptation was all around and available. My village needed support. By this time, I was already attending the Boys & Girls Club, but only to play basketball in the gym. Like many neighborhoods to this day, we did not have a park nor gymnasium in our community and therefore the adults would take turns dropping kids off at the Club, but more often times than not my friends and I would walk or ride our bikes the 4 miles each way to the nearest Club on Belvedere Road in West Palm Beach, Florida. Basketball may have been the reason I came into the front door, but the staff and the void they filled in my village is the reason I stayed. The Club in many ways became my second home.
20 years later, my career led me to Atlanta to work at PwC. PwC was already a significant supporter of Boys & Girls of Metro Atlanta and from the beginning I began to strategically position myself for consideration to join the Board of Directors.
Initially I had some reservations about joining the board. While I certainly appreciate the resource needs of any not-for-profit, I had no desire to just be a checkbook. Conversely, I also understood the board’s role is one of governance and not daily management. I was hoping for the right balance and was relieved to find a board that was deeply committed to the mission, keenly understood its role, and engaged in all the right NEEDED ways. Even more encouraging, they were not a board steeped in tradition and maintaining the status quo—quite the opposite. Notably, in the last few years, as we’ve embarked on a new strategic plan, the Board has embraced a spirit of deep introspection and a commitment to evolve the makeup of our board in order to become even more effective in executing on our mission. So when I was asked to Chair the Board Governance Committee, I embraced the opportunity to be part of that progress.
I have been leading the Board Governance Committee for the past year and a half, and, in that time, I have come to appreciate the art of building the “dream” board – a board made up of well-connected, generous, and engaged individuals who care deeply about the kids and communities we serve. It can be challenging to find individuals who not only have the time and resources to give but are genuinely concerned about the issues we are addressing and deeply committed to being a part of that solution. The challenge results from individuals who fit the bill but tend to be equally engaged in other areas of their lives – career, family, alma mater, personal hobbies, fitness routine, and spiritual practice. So, getting them to prioritize our organization and carve out time in their already busy schedule can be a big ask. But once you find those individuals, they become connected to the work and the mission and start to build camaraderie with other board members…well, that’s when the magic happens. As part of developing a high-performing board, we’ve implemented a new approach to board recruitment that I think is worth sharing.
Like many organizations, we embraced the idea that diverse perspectives around the leadership table will help us make better decisions, especially when those diverse perspectives closely reflect and understand the communities we serve. As part of our Rise 2025 Strategic Plan, our Board committed to building a group of volunteer leaders in which 50% of its members would come from racially diverse backgrounds. In the last two years, we have made progress bringing that percentage up from 26% in 2019 to 36% today. At the same time, we recognized other areas that could bring further diversification to our Board.
The organization had long benefited from board members whose expertise came primarily from the legal and banking professions. While we wanted to maintain the wealth of knowledge and resources these board members brought, we also recognized that many industries, companies, and skills were either missing or needed a greater presence.
Our first step was to conduct a Board of Directors Gap Analysis. We listed all the key industries in Metro Atlanta as well as all the Fortune 500 companies. We then outlined the professional skills and expertise most aligned to our strategic plan priorities (such as technology, marketing, and sports/entertainment), as well as the industries where workforce trends indicate an opportunity for our youth (such as healthcare and construction). Finally, we identified key skills necessary for the healthy operation of our organization (such as technology, finance, legal and human resources). We then identified the industries and expertise already represented on our Board, bringing the gaps to light. As stated before, it takes a village, and our village had clear gaps – we needed support. From there, we developed a board member recruitment plan that included a very targeted list of expertise needed and companies in the Metro Atlanta area that fell within the industries we wanted to add to our Board. Now it was time to execute our plan.
Our Board Governance Committee led the charge of soliciting the help of our Board of Directors to identify connections and make introductions. Rather than the often general “let-us-know-if-you-know-anyone-that-would-be-a-good-board-member” approach, this targeted list gave them greater clarity and allowed them to narrow their focus. And they felt much better about making an introduction to a friend or colleague, knowing this person represented a more thoughtful and strategic alignment to the organization’s goals and objectives. As a result, we have added 24 board members in the last two years. Our Class of 2022 cohort is an excellent example of this new approach. It includes six women and six men from a myriad of industries:
Jon Babul serves as Vice President of Basketball Development for the Atlanta Hawks and an analyst for the NBA G-League’s College Park Skyhawks.
Lauren Bricks is the Co-Founder and CEO of Ipsum Diagnostics. In early 2020, Lauren’s molecular laboratory team developed a COVID-19 PCR test granted Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA.
Madeline Chadwick is the Senior Vice President of Communications & Corporate Affairs for Papa Johns. She leads team member and franchisee communications, public relations, corporate communications, and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategy.
Ryan Esparza is the Chief Technology Officer for EspriGas with over 20 years of experience driving growth for technology companies.
Jeff Hanson has served as the Senior Vice President of E-Commerce for Floor & Décor since 2013.
Camille Hannans is the Vice President of Human Resources for the Georgia Aquarium, where she has worked since 2005.
Aiten McPherson is a Partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, LLP, where her practice focuses on commercial disputes, employment litigation, and non-compete matters.
John Mori, an Atlanta native, is the former CEO of Mori Luggage & Gifts, a family-owned specialty retailer founded in Atlanta in 1971.
Erin Mitchell Richeson serves as the Vice President of Inclusion and Diversity for Cox Enterprises, leading the implementation of the company’s inclusion, diversity, and equity strategy.
Elizabeth Silbert is a Partner at King & Spalding. Focusing on the energy, infrastructure, and pharma industries, Silbert represents clients in high-profile disputes involving major projects and long-term foreign investments.
Paul Trotti is Vice President for Supply Chain Development at Chick-fil-A, where he has worked in executive positions for over ten years.
Stephen Vault is Vice President of Strategic Community Development & Social Impact for WellStar Health System.
Some individuals, like John Babul from the Atlanta Hawks and Lauren Bricks from Ipsum Diagnostics, represent industries new to the Board. Others like Jeff Hanson from Floor & Décor, Erin Mitchell Richeson, and Ryan Esparza from EspriGas have expertise in e-commerce, technology, and diversity & inclusion that will support our strategic priorities. At the same time, others come from industries that will allow us to expand our reach. All of them represent alignment with the organization’s ultimate goals and objectives. We still have a healthy target list that we are actively pursuing, but we have made significant progress and feel confident that we are heading in the right direction.
It has been exciting to witness the new energy this intentional, multi-faceted approach to building a diverse board has brought to our volunteer leadership team. And while I know it makes our Board more effective, I’m even more encouraged by the opportunity it presents towards delivering on a strategic priority…preparing our teens for the workforce of tomorrow. A board that represents a broad range of industries, companies, and expertise, particularly those with shared goals around workforce development, can play a crucial role in igniting the unlimited potential of our Club members. These corporate partnerships can expose our teens to different careers through job shadowing initiatives. Internship programs could give teens the chance to explore their career interests in a more hands-on way. And ultimately, once our teens graduate and are ready to take the next step, corporate partners could provide placement in jobs that will set them on a path to success in life.
My 12-year-old self never could have imagined that I would one day be leading the board development strategy for an organization that was so integral to my village. I know that there are thousands of 12-year-old future leaders across Metro Atlanta who benefit immensely from the services that youth-serving organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs provide. I also know that there are thousands of mission-driven professionals whose skills, industry expertise, and corporate affiliations may be exactly what a local non-profit organization needs to positively impact our kids. I am thrilled to be a part of the village for the thousands of kids and teens who come through our Clubs every day, and I encourage other professionals across our community to consider how they might contribute to their own village by joining a local non-profit board that aligns with their passion and skills. That alignment is where the magic can really happen in our community.