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BLF and the JOC Scholarship Changed My Life

Posted by Jason Torreano and Beth Gibbons on Oct 18, 2019 1:03:49 PM

Jason Torreano, 2014 JOC Scholar

When I founded Inkululeko — a nonprofit organization that assists young people finish high school in Makhanda, South Africa — in 2011, I was totally new to the nonprofit space. I was infinitely eager and passionate about the work of supporting motivated learners in South Africa, but I was also totally uneducated in how to work with and leverage the myriad of skill sets that often exist on dynamic boards like ours.

I had an abundance of passion, but I wanted to learn more about how to work effectively and efficiently with our board of directors — no easy task for even the most seasoned of nonprofit executives. So it definitely was no easy task for a beginner like me.

When I came across the opportunity to attend the BoardSource Leadership Forum (BLF) in Los Angeles on a Judith O'Connor Memorial Scholarship, I leapt. It gave me the opportunity to attend a conference that specializes in the exact governance skills I was looking to educate myself in — something I would not have been able to do without the financial support.

BLF was useful in that it married the theoretical with the practical. The sessions showed somebody like me — a young, green, passionate, nonprofit professional — where the rubber meets the road. We were encouraged to examine what we were doing, and perhaps most importantly, why we were doing it. 

I left BLF after just a few short days with concrete, actionable ideas on how I could better work with my board to carry forward our mission; how I could partner with my board chair to grow our base of support and bring new partners into her sphere. 

Since I received the scholarship, I've used the lessons from these BLF sessions and have worked with my board and our partners to move Inkululeko from strength to strength. 

We've gone from one staff person to five. 

We've grown our funding base in both South Africa and the United States. 

We've forged new partnerships with entities like Syracuse University, the University of Michigan, Bloomfield College, and Oxford. 

We've launched a social enterprise unit that our learners help operate in South Africa. 

The seeds for this growth occurred in a number of places around the world, the place they were planted was at the BoardSource Leadership Forum in Los Angeles. 

The lessons I learned in Los Angeles at the BoardSource Leadership Forum had a ripple effect some 11,000 miles away in Makhanda, South Africa — again, something I could have never done without the Judith O'Connor Memorial Scholarship.


Beth Gibbons, 2017 JOC Scholar

Becoming an executive director doesn’t come with a ‘how to” handbook. It doesn’t make you suddenly a master of board management, nor does it instill a sudden appreciation and deep comprehension of quarterly financial statements and recognized revenue. But like so much of nonprofit work, it comes with an expectation that hard work and passion would be enough to make you capable of doing the job.

When I entered into this position in 2017, I felt like most do. I had observed and worked with executive directors in my past jobs, even in my personal life — my mother was an executive director, so I grew up in a nonprofit household — so I thought, “of course I can do this.”

The job that I dove into was leading a brand-new organization, the American Society of Adaptation Professionals. ASAP had been incubated within a larger institute for the past five years and now it was time for it to fledge. One of the first steps that I took in making sure that we would be positioned for success was to set up a membership in BoardSource. After signing up, I saw the opportunity to apply for a Judith O'Connor scholarship — a scholarship that I would end up winning, allowing me to travel to the biennial BoardSource Leadership Forum in Seattle.

When I arrived in Seattle, I didn't really know what to expect. I hadn't been to a professional development conference in my entire life and so this was a really new experience.  Attending the BoardSource conference as an attendee put me in a position to receive information and to absorb lessons about how to better myself as an executive director and how to advance the success of my new organization. Taking the two or three days to deeply engage in the conference sessions, networking events, and exhibitor hall was one of the most impactful activities of my first year as ED. 

Aside from the fact the conference itself was beautifully put together and had incredible networking opportunities, it featured inspiring keynote and plenary speakers, and sessions that were pragmatic and full of ready-to-use information, tips, and resources. 

Attending the BoardSource conference has made me a better nonprofit director and has helped me to appreciate what my members seek when they go to a professional development event. I am immensely grateful to have had the opportunity to be a JOC scholar and I can’t overstate the value that receiving this scholarship brought to my professional development and to the success of our organization.


Topics: BoardSource Leadership Forum

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