Changing of the Guard: A Roadmap to Nonprofit Board Diversity for Generation X

June 22, 2015

By: Amer Abdullah, Mary Barnicle, Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, Ashish Lal, Mark Palchak, Alison P. Ranney, and Linhard Stepf 

Chicago benefits from a robust community of cultural, civic, and nonprofit organizations that distinguishes this city among its global peers. Today these organizations face the challenge of diversifying their executive leadership and governance structures to actually reflect the communities they serve and the donors who support them. We spent the past several months surveying Chicago-based organizations to identify groups that have done this successfully and are benefitting from their efforts. Our profiles of these groups offer tangible examples of techniques being used to diversify boards and describe their impact. This study is not meant to be exhaustive, nor is it an academic white paper. Rather, it identifies and profiles leading Chicago-area civic groups that are using innovative means to build their organizations for the long term. Many of these “best practices” are broadly applicable, and our hope is that readers will take away practical solutions that can be implemented in their organizations. Specific techniques being used to increase leadership diversity include allowing more flexibility on minimum contribution levels for board positions, engaging volunteers with board committees that have oversight of key strategic decisions, and proactively targeting minority organizations to identify prospects. Organizations taking this long-term approach are benefiting from new perspectives that appeal to a broader audience, are more relevant to members and donors, and stand to strengthen their relationships with individual and corporate donors.

About the Authors

Amer Abdullah

Cofounder, Cedars Mediterranean Kitchen

Alongside his father and brother, Abdullah launched the Cedars dream in college in 2001, which spawned restaurant chains Mezza Mediterranean Grill and Habanero Baja Grill. From 2002 to 2012, Abdullah was an executive director at JP Morgan in the investment bank, focusing on rates and derivatives products. Abdullah received an AB in economics from the University of Chicago in 2002. Abdullah is currently at Second City’s Conservatory honing his writing and performing passion. He intends to combine entertainment, comedy and finance in a performance piece. Beyond business, he is a founding member of the Chicago Community Trust’s Pillars Fund, a donor-advised fund that targets a better understanding of the Muslim- American culture. During a career break, Abdullah worked with the US Consulate in Jerusalem to articulate his personal story to audiences of Palestinian businesspeople and entrepreneurs.

Mary Barnicle

Managing Director, Regulatory Affairs United Airlines

Barnicle holds the position of managing director of regulatory affairs at United Airlines. She advocates for the company’s interests before multiple government regulatory agencies, particularly regarding taxation and economic liberalization. Barnicle’s responsibilities cover both policy and compliance with economic and consumer regulations. She has also represented United in international aviation negotiations and was formerly United’s director of international affairs. Prior to joining United, Barnicle was a career diplomat with the United States Foreign Service. She served at the US embassies in Rome and Mexico City and in economic positions in Washington DC, including as director for Central America and the Caribbean at the White House’s Office of the US Trade Representative. Barnicle is a graduate of Georgetown University. She completed studies in international economics at the Foreign Service Institute at the International Monetary Fund Institute and undertook graduate work in finance at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

Sarah Elizabeth Ippel

Founder and Executive Director, Academy for Global Citizenship

In 2008, the Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC), a Chicago public elementary school, opened on the city’s underserved Southwest side where Ippel serves as its founder and executive director. AGC was established with an ardent commitment to environmental sustainability and is internationally recognized for its model green school initiatives combined with unprecedented academic results. As an international learning laboratory and incubator of scalable innovation, AGC is dedicated to transforming education, with an unwavering vision to impact 20 million students by 2020. Since earning a MA in philosophy from the University of Cambridge in England, she has traveled to over 90 different countries across six continents, extensively immersing herself in educational philosophies and world languages, as well as creating international alliances that have informed the design and culture of the Academy for Global Citizenship.

Ashish Lal

Principal, BDT & Company

Lal is a vice president at BDT & Company, a Chicago- based merchant bank that combines a $3.0 billion investment fund with advisory services to address the long-term strategic and financing needs of family and/ or founder controlled companies. He was involved in establishing BDT’s strategic joint venture with one of India’s most highly regarded conglomerates and continues to spend a portion of his time establishing new relationships with family business owners outside of the United States. Prior to BDT, Lal spent six years at Charlesbank Capital Partners, the former private equity arm of the Harvard Management Company. He began his career at L.E.K. Consulting, where he divided his time between the Chicago, London, and Tokyo offices. Lal holds a BA from Northwestern University with a double major in applied mathematics and economics, and an MBA from Wharton. He is a member of Northwestern University’s Chicago Regional Council and is former president of Northwestern’s New York alumni chapter.

Mark Palchak

CEO, V3 Markets

Palchak was formerly the head of event driven trading at Infinium Capital Management, a Chicago-based proprietary trading firm with offices in both New York and London. Palchak has extensive experience with leading growth in the high tech competitive trading industry, working with his team to take multiple groups from start-up to major profit center. He has pursued his passion in small business development as the managing director of ARG Capital, a venture capital fund with holdings in industries including natural gas, military security, financial news, and Chinese infrastructure. Palchak has a passion for improving educational outcomes in Chicago as well as across the country. He serves on the board of directors for Amandla Charter School, an organization dedicated to improving outcomes for students in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. Palchak frequently attends the Aspen Institute, including the executive seminar and seminars on foreign affairs. Palchak earned an MBA with honors from Notre Dame in 2009.

Alison P. Ranney

Principal, Koya Leadership Partners

Ranney is an executive recruiter with a practice devoted to the senior-most levels of nonprofit organizations. She leads the Chicago Office for Koya Leadership Partners, the national search and human capital firm dedicated to serving the nonprofit sector. Ranney has placed CEOs and other senior leaders at many of Chicago’s major cultural, civic and educational institutions. Prior to her executive search career, Ranney was in business and law and she began her career as a corporate attorney at Skadden, Arps. Committed to civic engagement, Ranney serves on the board of Chicago Public Media and on the Alumni Council of Phillips Andover Academy. She has been a director of City Year Chicago and the Ryerson Woods Conservation Area and on the visiting committee of the University of Chicago Law School. Ranney is also a director of the Lake Forest Bank & Trust and a member of the Economic Club. She received her BA in urban studies from Brown University and her MBA and JD from the University of Chicago.

Linhard Stepf

President, FrankfurtRheinMain Corp.

Stepf, a 10-plus year veteran in foreign direct investments and economic development marketing, is currently the president of FrankfurtRheinMain Corp. His responsibilities include promoting the Frankfurt region (Germany) in North America and Brazil to recruit and attract companies for relocation or expansion. His industry focus includes corporate and regional headquarters and convergent technologies including software, banking, and logistics. He has assisted startup companies as well as globally recognized companies in their relocation and expansion to Frankfurt, including Nike, American Axel Manufacturing, SonoSite, and Tesla Motors. Stepf has lived and worked extensively in Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil. He is a chairmen’s advisory board member of Big Shoulders Fund, serves on the board of trustees of The Cove School, and is a member of the Economic Club of Chicago. Stepf holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He also earned a JD from the Saarland University Law School (Germany) and studied international law at Keio University (Japan).

Changing of the Guard: A Roadmap to Nonprofit Board Diversity for Generation X