Best Boards

The Best Boards conference is an all-day program designed by Rice University to help nonprofit board members and staff work together more effectively. 

Group of nonprofit professionals sitting in auditorium

This experience is valuable to both new and seasoned board members and nonprofit executives. It is most beneficial to an organization when teams attend because they are equipped to readily implement what is learned.

This conference meets the elective requirement for the Leadership Institute for Nonprofit Executives (LINE) Certificate.


Section Instructor Format Schedule start date
CPNL1200.S19.1 Best Boards Speakers On-campus 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday, February 28, 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Best Boards Speakers
FORMAT: On-campus
SCHEDULE: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
START DATE: Feb. 28, 2019

Instructor: Best Boards Speakers

Best Boards Speakers include a variety of expert nonprofit professionals. Speaker details and session information can be found below. 

Term: Spring/Summer 2019

Start Date: Feb. 28, 2019

End Date: Feb. 28, 2019

Schedule: 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Length: One Day

Location: Rice campus

Fee: $185

Group Fee: $135 per person (must have 3 or more registrations from the same organization). If registering as a group, please use button below indicated as "GROUP REGISTRATION."

Note: This conference is not currently accepting registrations. Please select JOIN WAITLIST to receive a notification when registration is open for the spring 2019 Best Boards conference.

Elena M. Marks

Elena M. Marks is the president and chief executive officer of the Episcopal Health Foundation, a $1.2 billion philanthropy based in Houston. The foundation works to improve the health and well-being of the 11 million people of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, which covers 57 counties in east, southeast, and central Texas including Austin, Houston, Beaumont, Lufkin, Tyler, Waco and Bryan/College Station. Ms. Marks is also a nonresident Fellow in Health Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy where her work focuses on health reform and access to care for low income and uninsured populations. She serves on the boards of Grantmakers in Health, the largest national organization serving the field of health philanthropy, Harris Health System, an integrated health delivery system serving over 300,000 patients annually, and Community Health Choice, a nonprofit, community-based health insurance company with more than 400,000 members. Ms. Marks holds a bachelor’s degree from Emory University, a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law, and a master’s in public health from the University of Texas School of Public Health.  Ms. Marks’ previous professional experience includes serving as the director of health and environmental policy for the City of Houston, consulting in the healthcare industry with large systems and community-based providers, starting and directing a successful legal placement firm, and practicing trial and appellate law with major Texas law firms.

Sessions for the 2019 conference will be announced soon. Please see below for 2018 session details.

A Framework for Governance

Boards are responsible for defining why their organizations exists and governing them to ensure alignment to that mission. This session introduces a framework for connecting the activities of a board back to the organization’s greater purpose. With an understanding of how each activity can be viewed and planned within the context of the organization, board members are better able to advocate for the right work at the right time.

Michael Larson is a content strategist and senior facilitator with Blank Page, a people-focused strategy firm in Austin. Mr. Larson has 14 years of experience working with boards, executive teams, and operational groups to facilitate people-centered systems that think strategically, make decisions with compassion and clarity and continuously self-evaluate to respond to changes.

Cyndee Lake, co-founder and chief purpose officer at Blank Page, a people-focused design and strategy practice in Austin. Blank Page designs innovative and immersive experiences that unlock untapped potential in individuals, teams and organizations. Ms. Lake brings more than 30 years of leadership and business success in a variety of industries. She has a proven track record of strategic thinking, sustainable change leadership, service and product design, business process improvement, project execution, cultural transformation and building high performing teams. She is well known for her ability to balance judgment and rigor in serving the needs of stakeholders, while simultaneously leveraging curiosity, compassion, constructive dialogue and rapid iteration to drive results. Ms. Lake’s core strengths include: facilitation, communication, decision making, inspiring and enabling change, and solving complex business problems.

Achieving the Unexpected through Transformational Leadership - Plenary Session

Transformational Leadership is an essential skill that facilitates increased engagement, commitment and performance levels in teams and organizations. In this session, discuss the concept and how this style enhances your board and stakeholder relationships.

April Day, President, Women’s Business Enterprise Alliance (WBEA), increases opportunities for women-owned businesses and corporate members through education programs and professional networking at WBEA. Day holds a bachelor of arts in psychology from the University of Houston and an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University.

Fundraising Before, During, and After Disaster

It is easy to feel helpless in the wake of a natural disaster. Learn from a disaster fundraising expert who has been on the frontlines of several of our nation’s largest disasters and crises. As organizational leaders, we must have an executable emergency plan in place for our development team when the unexpected occurs.

Beverly Brooks Thompson, Ph.D., CFRE, is a published academic and practitioner in the field of philanthropic leadership. With a doctorate in human resource development specializing in organizational leadership and more than 20 years of fundraising campaign experience, Ms. Thompson is the president and executive counsel of Brooks Thompson Consulting, a national fundraising advising and philanthropic management consulting firm. Programs under her direction have received national awards and recognition at CASE, APAP, NASPA, AdFed and more. Ms. Thompson is a Certified Fundraising Executive and active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals; a member of the Baton Rouge Business Report 2008 class Top Forty under 40, was a 2017 member of Leadership Louisiana, and has been recognized as the 2017 Alumna of the Year by Louisiana State University.

The Importance of Strategic Planning for Nonprofit Boards

The process of developing a new strategic plan is, in many ways, as important as the strategic plan itself. An effective strategic planning process engages key people within the organization in answering crucial questions about its work. This session assists board members in identifying the key questions they should address as they start the process.

Barbara Bushong is a principal consultant at Sterling Associates, where she works closely with clients on capital campaign planning and management, strategic planning, and capacity-building. She joined Sterling in 2002, bringing special expertise in strategic and business planning to the firm. During her tenure at Sterling, Ms. Bushong has managed many successful capital campaigns and spearheaded a number of other projects, including organizational assessments, feasibility studies, and strategic plans. Before joining Sterling Associates, Ms. Bushong worked with leaders from professional consulting firms, investment banking firms, nonprofits, hospitals and medical practices to create comprehensive business plans, assess market dynamics, and develop strategic plans. Ms. Bushong holds a bachelor’s in political science from Princeton University and an MBA in healthcare management from Boston University.

It’s the Law – Ensuring EEOC Compliance for Your Organization

This very timely session introduces board members to the EEOC’s perspective on emerging issues including harassment, wellness initiatives, gender stereotyping, social media and new forms of retaliation. Board members will learn how to navigate cultural and generational differences as boards become increasingly diverse. There's no need for your organization to become a headline when you can take preventive action.

Joe Bontke is the outreach & education manager for the Houston District office of U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission/EEOC. Mr. Bontke has been in the field of human resources and civil rights for the past 27 years and has experience in employment law and adult education. With a bachelor's in philosophy and a master's in education, he has been a human resources director, a training coordinator for the American Disabilities Act (ADA) Technical Assistance Center for Federal Region VI, was appointed as assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine and was recently commissioned an honorary admiral in the Texas Navy.

Organizational Resilience – Managing through Internal Crisis

In this session, explore the factors that can lead to organizational crisis and how the board plays a critical role in how well organizations respond and recover to an internal crisis.

Heather Patrick, CEO of Prevent Blindness Texas, Ms. Patrick has spent more than fifteen years in the nonprofit community both as a volunteer and nonprofit executive, serving at the local, regional and national levels of healthcare nonprofits focused on impact.

The Risky Business of Increasing Impact through Innovation

Exciting new opportunities and innovative ideas for increasing impact necessarily come with some risk. This risk often leaves boards reticent to change. Organizations often do their best work when they understand the risk, mitigate what they can, and prepare for the rest. In this session, discuss risk management and change management strategies to help board members and staff boldly move forward with creative and innovative solutions to better achieve their mission. We will focus on understanding what risks are out there, tools for assessing smart risks, and creating plans for change and risk management.

Claudia Gee Vassar is a native Houstonian and Rice graduate who earned a law degree from the University of Virginia. After practicing law for a decade, Vassar began consulting work with local nonprofits, providing valuable guidance through cycles of transition and growth. Claudia has worked with nonprofits in a variety of arenas, including arts, education, environmental, health and human services, and religious organizations. She has recently been named the executive director and general counsel for the Houston Botanic Garden, which is creating a world-class botanic garden in Houston to enrich life through discovery, education, and the conservation of plants and the natural environment.

Why Diversity Matters – Building a Successful Board

This session is a panel discussion with three participants who have experience or expertise with nonprofit boards. Join us as we explore the definitions of diversity, why diversity matters and how to overcome the challenges of finding qualified candidates.

Jenn Char moved to Washington, D.C. to work for People for the American Way to assist the public policy team with research, written communications and lobbying Capitol Hill. She gained experience of campaign work, and she was hooked. She spent the next four years working every facet of campaigns, from communications to opposition research to direct mail to fundraising. In 2008, Ms. Char moved to Houston and worked as a fundraiser for three campaigns, ending with the Annise Parker campaign for mayor. She accompanied her to City Hall when she won. Ms. Char served as a city employee under two mayoral administrations, where she handled board appointments, external affairs strategy and communications. She has volunteered and worked with many organizations, including Texas Children's Hospital and Meals on Wheels and is a Junior League member. In 2014, she became a British-American Project Fellow, joining an international group of leaders in business, politics and the media. Ms. Char is a graduate of Boston University.

Words in Action – Translating Your Messaging into a Brand Experience

An essential component of successful messaging is translating a nonprofit’s unique culture and philosophy of care into what clients actually experience. This workshop utilizes messaging exercises and case studies to illustrate how to translate messages into experiences that influence income and enhance donor relations.

Kelli B. Newman, APR, brings 30 years of communication experience to her position as president of Newman & Newman, where her responsibilities center on formulating strategies, messaging and producing communication tools for both nonprofit and for-profit clients.

Linsay Vladimirov, communications strategist at Newman & Newman Inc., has more than 20 years of unique and pertinent experience to Experienced Messaging℠. She spent 13 years in higher education staff management and leadership development, policy implementation, event planning, hospitality, community engagement, and crisis communications. Later, she transferred her skills to the nonprofit sector working as a program director and volunteer coordinator. Ms. Vladimirov holds a master's degree in leadership studies.

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