Details about Board Observer Program

Participating Board Observers must be:

  • A member of the Young Lawyers Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association; and
  • Licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania and be in good standing.

Aspects of the Board Observer Program include:

  • A one-year commitment from Board Observers and their assigned nonprofits.
  • Attendance at board meetings of the assigned organization, participation in board committees, and support for the organization’s events.
  • Each Board Observer is assigned a mentor, usually a trustee or the executive director of the organization, to help the Observer assimilate into the organization and understand the way the board functions.
  • Attendance at a series of mandatory events: kick-off and year-end events; an annual CLE on the basics of nonprofit board service; and quarterly “lunch and learn” programs covering topics such as fundraising, how to read financial statements, using social media, and ethics.
  • Board Observers are exempted from the normal financial obligation of a board contribution – an obligation that might otherwise serve as an obstacle to board service for young attorneys who are just starting their careers.

History of the Board Observer Program

  • Founded in 2011 by David Smith, Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP and Norm Weinstein, Galfand Berger, LLP. Smith and Weinstein approached Wendy Beetlestone, then president of the Philadelphia Bar Foundation and now a U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Together, they recruited young lawyers Nilam Sanghvi, Pennsylvania Innocence Project and Wendy Smith, Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby LLP and the BOP was born.
  • Growth from 19 young attorneys observing 11 legal services nonprofits in 2012 to 35 young attorneys observing 30 nonprofit agencies (both legal and non-legal) in 2017.
  • Many individual Board Observers have gone on to serve in permanent board and leadership positions for legal aid and other nonprofit organizations, including serving as board chairs.
  • BOP has offered over 20 educational and CLE programs on issues related to nonprofit governance that have been open to the entire Philadelphia bar and nonprofit community.

Board Observer Program Testimonials

  • “It has been a tremendous value add to our organization. The board observers who have participated have been interested, and interesting, have participated on committees, helped to fundraise, and generally added to the development of our agency. Three of our board observers have joined our board, and I know will eventually take a leadership position in meeting our mission.” Linda Peyton, Executive Director of the Legal Clinic for the Disabled, an organization that has participated in the BOP since its inception.
  • “The Board Observer Program has helped us engage and build fruitful relationships with bright, young lawyers who share their expertise in the fields of communication, marketing, and event planning, among others. Board observers have generously helped us expand the capacity of various board committees to increase our organization’s visibility and helped draw in a new generation of supporters, donors, and prospective directors.” Barbara Macholz, Director of Development and Communications at Public Interest Law Center.
  • “I can't praise this program enough and what a wonderful opportunity it was and how grateful I am for the opportunity it has afforded me to serve with Canine Partners going forward.” Jessalyn Cool, BOP Class of 2014-2015.
  • “The BOP has been a great experience and so far has confirmed what I thought going in: a lawyer’s value to a nonprofit board is enhanced not just by professional experience, but also by prior board experience. Needless to say, that might be a circular problem for a lawyer who has never been a board member, but the BOP is a unique opportunity to gain that experience and make quality contributions from day one of becoming a board member for the first time.” Andrew Olen, BOP Class of 2012-2013.

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