Jasmine Sears, 30, got her job as a research scientist at Facebook Reality Labs two years ago after completing her PhD in quantum optics. After spending much of her time buried in research, she finally came up for air.
“My PhD took so much time in my life,” Sears said. “Now I had like five hours a day to do whatever I wanted, which meant I wanted to fill that time with something useful.”
She went to a training Facebook offered with Seattle Works to become a board member of nonprofits, and now sits on two boards: Hey Mentor, which helps low-income students apply to college, and Para Los Niños, which supports Latino families in the area.
Seattle Works has been working with nonprofits in Seattle for 30 years. On Thursday, it welcomed some of Facebook’s new employees to Seattle with an in-depth crash course, called Bridge Board Training, on becoming a board member for one of the region’s hundreds of nonprofits.
“Board leadership and board volunteerism is a deep volunteer engagement. Once you’re on a board, you got a lot of skin in the game,” said Ben Reuler, the executive director of Seattle Works.
Facebook’s local offices constitute its largest presence outside its headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., with Its 5,000 employees working in the ads, gaming, Messenger and Facebook Groups departments. Nonprofits are taking advantage of the new Seattleites and what they can provide.
“Especially with this influx of new people landing here with no roots and no networks, we want them to feel a deep sense of accountability to support the nonprofit and public sectors,” Reuler said. “And board leadership is a great way to do that.”
Not many people know what boards do beyond looking out for the fiduciary, legal and ethical state of the nonprofit. The 21 Facebook employees at the training raised concerns about how to fundraise without writing a check themselves, how much time it takes to be part of a board, and how to not burn out.
Reuler said it took him 10 years in the nonprofit sector to figure out what boards do. “Boards are super, super weird,” he said.
But recruiting new board members has its own challenges. According to BoardSource, a resource for nonprofits, board diversity in terms of wealth, race and disability hasn’t changed in two years, and was unlikely to do so given recruitment practices. Among nonprofit chief executives surveyed, 65% reported their boards of directors weren’t diverse enough.
“We see it all the time. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay,” said William Veskeski, a lecturer at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work. “If you’ve got a board that looks really different from the community it serves… it’s going to lead to problems in fundraising, in setting the strategic direction.”
The training attempts to address those disparities by acknowledging how the participants might be similar or different from the people their organizations might serve. Along with teaching participants about fundraising techniques and how to navigate the legal and financial red tape of nonprofit work, it has a simulation in which participants tackle the diversity dynamics in most boards.
Reuler said the goal of the training is to recruit people who can serve “with radical humility” and help enterprises while “really following their lead about what these nonprofits need.”
Seattle Works’ Bridge Board Training has been working with Facebook for five years. The program, which used to be a multiple-day commitment in evenings, is now condensed to an 8-hour version and a 4-hour version. It does similar trainings at Microsoft, Premera Blue Cross and the pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb. Those who want to commit to nonprofit work can do a meet-and-greet with 40 nonprofits who are looking for board members.
“I like being able to see the difference the organization is making,” Sears said. “If I give money to the organization, I know exactly what’s happening with it.”