Board Fellows Q&A: Gillian Pressman, Greater Boston Site Director, Generation Citizen

Gillian Pressman Gillian Pressman is the Greater Boston Site Director for Generation Citizen, one of the host organizations for the Net Impact Boston Board Fellows Program. Here she tells us about Generation Citizen’s work, the organization’s motivations for hosting a Board Fellow, and how the Board Fellow has added value to the Board.

Can you tell us a little about Generation Citizen and the positive impact achieved by the organization?
Generation Citizen’s mission is to strengthen democracy by empowering young people to become engaged and effective citizens. We pair college volunteer “Democracy Coaches” with classroom teachers to provide an innovative “action civics” course in which students work with local leaders to fix local problems. Since our founding in 2008, GC has grown to serve almost 9,000 young people across four regions (Greater Boston, New York, Bay Area, and Rhode Island). In Greater Boston alone, we work with 2,700 students a year across 30 schools, and engage 150 college volunteers from 7 local campuses. GC students have helped pass local legislation to address community violence, youth unemployment, and sustainability, successfully advocated for the building of teen centers and community gardens, changed school policies, and created student governments and youth liaisons to government agencies.

What motivated Generation Citizen to participate in the Net Impact Board Fellows program?
To better serve students and become more responsive to our Greater Boston school, college, and youth partners, GC recently transitioned from a national organization with local sites to a localized organization. GC Greater Boston is still part of one national 501(c)(3), but we are now pursuing an autonomous local strategy, building a local Board, and aiming to fund our operations entirely through local revenue sources. This transition has been challenging, especially in regards to growing local fundraising from scratch. We definitely need the best and brightest to help us navigate this challenge, and the talent and additional capacity provided by the Net Impact Board Fellows program made it a really good fit.

How has hosting a Board Fellow helped build the capacity of your Board?
The process we need to go through to launch local fundraising is a bit like the campaign process we teach our students in the GC course: we have to do research and analysis to narrow down what we want to accomplish into specific, strategic goals, more research and analysis to identify the best targets – people and organizations that can help us reach those goals, and then take action to engage those targets. In the case of corporate fundraising, we had a staff and Board ready to move forward on whatever goals we set and targets we identified, but we didn’t have the research ready to identify exactly what those goals and targets were! The Board Fellows program allowed us to bring in someone who can fill in those gaps for us and help us really leverage our Board and staff capacity.

What was the project that the Board Fellow focused on and how did this and their general participation add value to your Board?
Because of the above gaps, our project is around corporate fundraising. Our Board Fellows are tasked with doing some market analysis and benchmarking of other organizations to identify possible strategies for engaging corporations – either through formal grant-making, sponsorship, volunteering, matching donations, etc. After this first phase, the Fellows will help us strategize exactly the best routes to go in reaching out to companies, considering the market and what other organizations have done well, as well as internally, what GC can do well. Then they will help us identify our targets – lists of priority companies to engage. This will be totally huge for us as we transition to our new localized model. Beyond that consulting project, Board Fellows have offered a fresh perspective on some of the overall challenges we are facing. Many of our other Board members come in after a long engagement with GC and so don’t have quite the insight into how the laymen perceives what we do or how GC appears to outside organizations. So the Board Fellows can bring this – highlighting, for example, what is confusing about our messaging.

Would you recommend the Board Fellows Program to other nonprofits in Boston?
Yes – If you have a project in mind, it’s a great way to add capacity to your Board and expand your network!

Find about more about the Board Fellows program here and come for a drink at Post 390 on May 19th at 5.30pm to meet the organizing team and get your questions answered. The application deadline is May 23rd.

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