Board Internship Alum Erin Fohn Shares Her Experience

The Austin Involved Board Internship Program cultivates the next generation of philanthropists, board members, and community leaders for Central Texas. Produced in partnership with Mission Capital, Impact Austin, and the Austin Young Chamber, the program creates civic leaders who are prepared to serve our community on a nonprofit board or committee and connects these professionals with I Live Here I Give Here’s Nonprofit Member organizations. Participants leave the program ready to commit their time and leadership skills to a cause they are passionate about.

The Board Internship Program consists of two levels of learning: classroom instruction focused on the application of best-practices in a nonprofit board setting, and practical learning with current nonprofit staff and board members who provide expert insights and real-world context.

We caught up with Board Internship Program alum Erin Fohn, Director of Marketing Communications at Tacodeli. Below, she shares how the program helped her become an impactful board member for Urban Roots.

 I Live Here I Give Here (ILHIGH): What inspired you to sign up for the Austin Involved Board Internship Program?

Erin Fohn (EF): The Austin Involved Board Internship Program seemed like an easy way to learn about supporting charitable groups in Austin. I was inspired to sign up because it finally felt like the right way to introduce myself to community service. Volunteering and getting involved with nonprofits outside of my day job was something I had been thinking about for a while, just didn’t know where to start. I had a one-year-old and was traveling intermittently for work when I found out about the Board Internship Program, so committing an evening a week for a couple months was a big commitment, but it was definitely doable!

Note: Beginning in 2019, the Board Internship Program transitioned from four evening sessions to an intensive, single-day training.

ILHIGH: What are one or two key takeaways from the program that continue to resonate with you?

EF: The first thing that really resonated with me was realizing that nonprofit service didn’t have to be about draining my bank account or sweating away all my weekends. For me, it could be more about using my professional skills to advise business decisions, or building relationships rooted in charitable giving, or connecting different communities to support one great cause. Of course, there is still giving financially and giving sweaty afternoons, but it’s not overwhelming.

Another really key learning from the program that I keep with me is the understanding that as a Board Member, one of our primary functions is to support and advise, not always to do. 

ILHIGH: How did you get involved with Urban Roots? What personally motivated you to serve on their board?

EF: I met two Urban Roots Board Members at the last day of the 2018 Internship Program. I had been introduced to Urban Roots through my work life in the restaurant industry, and the UR mission checked a lot of boxes for me personally and professionally. Over the course of about a year, I met with Board Members, staff leaders, attended events, hosted a fundraiser, gave financially, joined a Board Committee, supported on a couple projects that popped up, sat in on a couple Board meetings. The summer after I first met Urban Roots at the BIP mixer, I officially joined the Board of Directors.

My motivation stemmed from a magical combination of what would be both personal and professional enrichment. My professional skills fill very specific organizational needs, my social and professional networks are (or can be!) already rooted in the Urban Roots mission, plus I have a deep personal drive to support people to live their best lives in the way they want to. Urban Roots service brings my own core values to life in both professionally and personally.

ILHIGH: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience on the Urban Roots board? What is your role? What goals do you help the organization advance?

EF: I support the Urban Roots board from a Marketing Communications and Hospitality perspective. I lead the Communication Committee where we build framework for overarching marketing planning, general public relations, and initiatives around our new farm development. I advise the Urban Roots staff on marketing and communications-related efforts when needed, and share a unique restaurant industry-perspective on Board-level decisions. And as with the entire Board, I attend all Board meetings and functions, am always available to Urban Roots staff, and help with broader fundraising and professional networking. 

ILHIGH: How has the Board Internship Program helped you to be a more effective board member?

EF: Not only did the BIP bring me together with the Urban Roots family, it really helped set my expectations for board service. The combination of all the program learnings set a great path for me into nonprofit service. I genuinely believe I would not be where I am today without the experience of the Board Internship Program.

ILHIGH: What advice would you give other Central Texans interested in serving on a nonprofit board or committee? What personal benefits can they receive from giving back in their community?

EF: If you feel that internal tug to do more for your community, just know that there are many ways you can give back — and there is likely a cause in Central Texas that is perfect for you. If you’re like me, community service seems daunting at first because you want to fix ALL the things, but you don’t have to do ALL the things to make a big impact. You can contribute in a way that is comfortable and meaningful for you without running an entire operation (unless you really want to!).

ILHIGH: Anything else you'd like to add?

EF: This is a great program — congrats on taking such a big step to meaningfully giving back to your community!

I Live Here I Give Here’s 2019 Board Internship Program takes place August 12th. Keep in touch to receive information about our next program.

About Urban Roots:

Urban Roots is an Austin-based nonprofit organization that cultivates leadership skills through food and farming to transform the lives of young people and inspire, engage, and nourish the community. They are a Nonprofit Member of I Live Here I Give Here. Learn more about how to get involved with Urban Roots here

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