Getting On Board: Supporting Community Growth through Non-Profit Board Membership

Neel Hajra, CEO Ann Arbor Area Community FoundationNeel Hajra hadn’t fully anticipated the impact of moving from a multi-billion dollar company to the non-profit sector. He’s the current CEO of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation after a career that started with a corporate attorney role at Ford Motor Company. He also hadn’t imagined the ease of his transition within the non-profit world to CEO of AAACF.

“Surprisingly, some of my business and legal practices as an attorney were applicable at AAACF, which is both a complex financial institution and a charitable organization,” he recalls. “I fell in love with the idea of using my skillset to build strong business model internally at AAACF in order to make philanthropic impact externally.”

Business leaders can increase public awareness of the nonprofit sector through participation, including board membership.

“However,” he says, “one consistent challenge for us is that we aren’t as visible in the community as we would like to be. We can’t encourage sustainable philanthropy in our community if you are its best kept secret.”

The nation’s most impactful community foundations are recognized through their local prominence and impact. Neel believes that local business leaders can increase public awareness of the nonprofit sector, and of the, foundation, through participation in a range of volunteer roles, including board membership.

“Seasoned leaders and professionals, not just CEOs, can bring their business and entrepreneurial skills into the non-profit sector through board membership” he notes. “It is a time commitment, but it is incredibly worthwhile.” The skills they hone can then be transferred back to their company, making board membership mutually beneficial.

Neel remarks that Bhushan, GDI’s CEO, has influenced the AAACF by always celebrating the opportunity to give back to his community. The entrepreneurial talent and business acumen that Bhushan brought to AACF was crucial to developing business practices as the organization grew. Bhushan served as President of Board of Trustees  of AAACF.

“After benefiting so much from resources in the Ann Arbor Area for GDI, he was and still is dedicated to paying it forward, and that’s the mark of a great leader.”