Board Initiative Connects Policy Students to Durham’s Nonprofits

For Sam Rauschenberg MPP’12, applying to the Sanford Board Leadership Initiative (SBLI) was a no-brainer. Having previously taught in Louisiana’s Recovery School District in New Orleans, he had often interacted with educational nonprofits and seen the difference these organizations could make in educational outcomes for high-risk populations.

Rauschenberg was selected as one of eight students to kick off the SBLI’s inaugural year last fall. He was placed with the Achievement Academy of Durham, a nonprofit organization that helps to reconnect young adults who have dropped out of school to educational opportunities and college preparatory training.

Modeled after the business school’s Fuqua on Board Program out of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, the SBLI was launched in the fall of 2010 to better connect Sanford students with the nonprofit scene in Durham. The program places first-year Master of Public Policy (MPP) students on the boards of local nonprofits for a full calendar year as non-voting members, and generally requires about 8-12 hours a month.

The SBLI provides a way to engage with nonprofits in a sustainable manner, and allows Sanford students to practice skills gained in the classroom, professionalize their experience at Duke and learn about nonprofit management and governance.

 “Sanford students not only bring interest and passion for the nonprofit’s policy area, but also contribute skills in cost-benefit analysis, communication, grant writing, political expertise and stakeholder analysis,” said Jessica Harris, an MBA/MPP’12 student who helped organize the program.

The nonprofits involved with the SBLI program span a variety of issues including education, gun violence, meal service delivery and the environment. Students are matched with their nonprofits based on their policy interests, the technical skills they can provide and the organization’s specific needs. Lauren Hungarland MPP’12 was placed with the Eno River Association, which works on land conservation and historical preservation of the Eno River Basin.

“I first heard about the SBLI on Visit Day and was immediately interested in the program because I worked at a nonprofit for three years before graduate school,” said Hungarland. She emphasized the value in getting out of the classroom, talking to individuals in the field, and involving Sanford in the community. For many students, the SBLI connects them with the reason they joined policy school in the first place: to give back.

In their nonprofit board commitments, both Rauschenberg and Hungarland draw on Sanford resources and skills they’ve learned in their courses. Hungarland has found the school’s emphasis on analytical problem solving the biggest help in her work to help redesign the nonprofit’s strategic plan and development efforts. Rauschenberg tapped into the knowledge base of Sanford’s professors, particularly in researching growth strategies to provide recommendations for expanding the nonprofit’s impact.

“As an organization, we’re in the weeds every day doing what we do,” says Sandy Ogburn, director of administration at the Achievement Academy of Durham. “Having a Sanford student who has a research background and who is immersed in the issues helps provide a new perspective and lift our sights.” Though Rauschenberg’s term as an SBLI member formally ends at the end of December, he will continue as a full voting board member beginning in January 2012.

All eight nonprofits who participated last year re-applied for the second year. After a successful inaugural year, student leaders hope to expand the program to provide MPPs with more opportunities for professional development and to give back to Durham’s communities.