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All Fall 2020 philanthropy & nonprofit courses have been lowered by 20 percent. No discount code needed. Certificate programs not included.

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. 

March 5, 2020

The Best Boards Conference is an annual, one-day conference designed to help nonprofit board members and staff work together more effectively. Offered each spring, the program is valuable to both new and seasoned board members and nonprofit executives. The conference features sessions from experts in the field along with relevant, quality content to take back to participants' organization.

Fee: $185/person  | Group fee: $135 if you are registering as a group of three or more from one organization  |  Member fee: $135 for members of AASP, AFP, Apra or CGPH



This conference meets the elective requirement for the Leadership Institute for Nonprofit Executives Certificate Program.

Ellen Cohen

Ellen Cohen has lived and worked in the city of Houston for the past 42 years. She served for 10 years as the executive director of the American Jewish Committee and for 18 years as the CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center. In 2006, she was elected as the Texas State Representative for District 134 and continued her public service career at home. She ran for Houston City Council, and was sworn into office in January 2012 as the Council Member representing District C.

During her tenure on Council, Ms. Cohen has championed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, the elimination of the sexual assault kit backlog, the creation of a dedicated Human Trafficking Unit within the Houston Police Department, the introduction of a Parking Benefit District for the Washington Corridor, and many other initiatives to improve the quality of life of her constituents. She served her third, and final term, on Council as Mayor Pro Tem for the City of Houston from 2015 - 2019.

Turning Your Board and Supporters Into Advocates for Your Mission
Presented by: Gabrielle Baumeyer

Mission awareness and raising funds go hand in hand. A nonprofit’s key to success is maximizing them in tandem. In this breakout session, learn creative ways to advocate for your mission and engage supporters to be powerful voices for your cause.This results in expanded fundraising outcomes.The presenter will provide a guide to identifying leaders who are willing to step up and be agents of change.You will also have the opportunity to practice conversations to motivate people in a way that elevates their experience of community to harnesses the power of public outreach.

Gabrielle Baumeyer is the president and co-founder of Reason2Race whose mission is to empower individuals and organizations to make their community impact. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Ms. Baumeyer is an engineer by study but has followed her passion and calling to be of service to others. She has helped over 300 nonprofit organizations mobilize their supporters and volunteers to be a powerful voice for their causes and participate actively in fundraising initiatives. Her efforts have supported these organizations in collectively raising over $4.5M to forward their missions.

Advocating for Policy Change: A Strategic Approach
Presented by: Jenna Courtney

In a state as large as Texas, systemic and lasting change can often best be accomplished through policymaking. However, procedural impediments and poor overall odds of bill passage make this an especially difficult endeavor. It is imperative to have a clear understanding of the legislative process and to employ a strategic approach in order to successfully accomplish organizational objectives. With one of TXPOST’s newest initiatives—Quality for All—as a case study, this session will explore long-term, multi-legislative session strategic planning to influence legislative outcomes and the varied roles board members can play toward that end in engaging stakeholders in their communities and in the Capitol. This session also walks through phases of board education and training, facilitated legislative and community outreach, follow up, and strategic adaptation that can be replicated according to organizational mission and legislative goals.

Jenna Courtney recently joined TXPOST as their executive director. She has more than a decade of experience in and around the Texas Legislature, spending time in the Texas Senate and the private sector. Prior to joining TXPOST, Ms. Courtney worked for a boutique public affairs firm in Austin where she provided turnkey services to the firm’s diverse clientele. She has extensive experience developing and managing complex and multi-faceted issue management campaigns that bridge media, government, and public relations to provide unified and targeted messages tailored to achieve client goals and objectives. Born and raised in Austin, Texas, Ms. Courtney graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor of arts in English and government. 

The 2020 Census: What’s at Stake for Funding and Representation
Presented by: Ana Mac Naught

Learn what programs are funded by Census participation as well as the overarching effects that lack of participation has on those programs. This session also provides an understanding of how that information is used after it is collected to define district lines for purposes of representation. There will be a panel of experts representing various community organizations to provide multiple perspectives.

Ana Mac Naught leads the coordination between Houston in Action partners, the City of Houston, Harris County, and other stakeholders. She has extensive experience working with Houston in Action partners, local government partners and coordinated coalition work in South America, Asia, Africa and Europe. In her multiple roles with BakerRipley, Ms. Mac Naught grew from her role as an immigration services specialist to assistant director of community development. She oversaw the Immigration Program of the agency, which coordinated the local response to DACA efforts in 2012 and led to a regional wide strategy to utilize forums for application support. In her role as community developer for the flagship BakerRipley Community Center in Gulfton, she developed trusted relationships with refugee serving organizations and began programs that spoke to the diverse community living in Southwest Houston. 

Understanding the Importance of the Board’s Role as a Philanthropy Advocate
Presented by: Mark Kimbell, senior consultant and principal, Marts & Lundy and Sarah Williams, senior consultant & principal; leader, Analytical Solutions

Individual giving fell below 70 percent for the first time in 2018, and dependence on fewer donors giving more continues. In this shifting landscape, a high-performing board is even more critical to sustained philanthropic growth. Houston’s top nonprofits participated in Marts & Lundy’s latest research into the characteristics shared by boards whose philanthropic gifts represent a higher percentage of total giving and where the institution’s overall fundraising is higher. The research in Houston expands on seven years of boarding giving studies with nonprofits located in New York and Canada. This session presents the results of our Houston research and the findings and strategies Houston nonprofits can employ to advance the board’s role as the institution’s top philanthropy advocates. By the end of this session:
+ Be positioned to lead discussions on the influence of board giving on total giving
+ Have data to support optimal practices in board size, board recruitment and board orientation
+ Understand the benefits of giving expectations and the effects of a “give versus get policies”

Mark Kimbell created a comprehensive philanthropy program from scratch and coordinated a range of advancement, outreach and creative partnership activities. Mr. Kimbell previously served as the president of the California Pacific Medical Center Foundation in San Francisco and regional vice president for Philanthropy of Sutter Health West Bay from 2009-2014. He has worked in and around higher education and health sciences institutions for more than 35 years. He is noted for leading large campaigns, transformational gifts, staff development and performance, cultural change expertise, executive coaching and integration of advancement with an institution’s strategic plan.

His chief development officer roles included: Houston Methodist Hospital, Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago (now Lurie Children’s), Rice University and University of Houston. Mr. Kimbell is also an experienced consultant. His earlier practice included top research universities and academic medical centers. In addition to philanthropy, his executive background includes marketing, public relations/media, crisis communications, community relations, business development and complex strategy.

Sarah Williams joined Marts & Lundy in 2002 as an analyst in our Analytical Solutions Group. She is the team leader for Analytical Solutions and works with consultants and clients on data mining and analysis projects, constituent surveys and custom benchmarking projects of all sizes. Ms Williams' extensive experience in research and analysis, and nonprofit program development and management, puts her in the perfect position to work with our clients and her colleagues in continuously refining our philanthropic Capacity Analysis reports as well as developing new data-mining tools. Her previous experience includes work as a strategic communications and research consultant with Shipley & Associates, Inc. She also served as a special projects consultant with the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Ms. Williams has been an AmeriCorps volunteer and a reporter/researcher for the Congressional Quarterly. In addition, she has completed language training at the Centro Linguistico Conversa, Intensive Spanish Institute, San Jose, Costa Rica.

How Boards Create an Inclusive Environment and Culture
Presented by: Sonya Ware, executive coach, Diversity Champion

Per Board Source, as the decision-making body at the highest level of organizational leadership, boards play a critical role in creating an organization that prioritizes, supports, and invests in diversity, inclusion and equity. This session shares how boards can create an inclusive environment and culture that positions its members, and organization to thrive. This session will provide you with the tools to:
+ Assess the diversity & inclusion culture of your board
+ Prepare your board for true inclusion
+ Recruit and retain board members reflecting the values of your organization

An executive coach and Diversity Champion, Ms. Ware works with high-performing clients creating greater self-awareness and self-mastery. Embracing who they are. Changing what leaders do, not who they are. Grounded in years of practical experience in business acumen, IT operations & support, Ms. Ware’s leadership experiences are transferable and used to help her clients create winning performance strategies. As a Diversity Champion, collaboration and inclusion are very naturally integrating into her experiences and current endeavors.

Ms. Ware’s credentials include more than 10 years of advising and coaching business leaders, as many years as a corporate Diversity Champion, a BBA from the University of Houston in Entrepreneurship, a Master of Liberal Arts, a Professional Certified Coach credential from the International Coach Federation, an Executive Leadership Certificate from Cornell University, and Inclusive Leadership Certificate from edX.

Using Data for Storytelling and Advocacy
Presented by: Jeff Reichman, founder, January Advisors

To be effective advocates for their missions, board members need to be able to use data to tell a compelling story. This session explores the ways that nonprofits use data to illustrate the impact of their work to communicate the urgency of their mission and to engage their communities in new and productive ways. This will be a lively session with several data visualization examples, highlighting organizations and initiatives in criminal justice, affordable housing, environmental advocacy, arts education, and more. 

Mr. Reichman is the founder of January Advisors, a data science consulting firm that works with nonprofit and public sector clients. He is also the founder of Sketch City, a nonprofit community of 2,000+ people who advocate for technology and data in public decision making. He is passionate about the right to vote and serves on the board of the League of Women Voters of Houston.

Communicating the Financial Information that Matters for Effective Stewardship
Presented by: Justine Townsend, associate, Your Part-Time Controller, LLC

The financial information generated by a nonprofit organization can be complex and cumbersome. Nonprofit controllers and CFO’s wrestle with the age-old question of what information to prepare for the executive director, the Finance Committee, and for the full board of directors. If board members are given too little information, they are not able to fulfill their fiduciary obligations. If they are given too much, they may get bogged down in the details and not focus on the important matters at hand. This session is an overview of the key pieces of financial information that should matter most to nonprofit leadership, and how best to communicate this information to board members and their finance committees. Attendees will learn:
+ A review of the financial oversight role of nonprofit leadership and governance
+ Key pieces of financial information that should matter most to nonprofit leadership and governance
+ Tips for how best to present financial information to nonprofit boards and their finance committees

As an associate at Your Part-Time Controller, LLC Ms. Townsend, knows that an organization's mission only succeeds when it’s delivered by a well-run and fiscally sound organization. She is a CPA, an alumna of the University of Houston’s C.T. Bauer College of Business, and holds a Nonprofit Finance Certification from Rice University’s Center for Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership. She is an adjunct professor of Financial Management for Arts Organization’s at the University of Houston’s Master of Arts Leadership Program. She has worked with nonprofits in Houston for more than 12 years, and she has previously worked in financial leadership roles with the Houston Symphony, the United Way of Greater Houston, and Galveston Bay Foundation.
As an auditor with Null-Lairson, P.C., she managed over 35 nonprofit clients, overseeing all areas of their audit engagements. With her in-depth knowledge of nonprofit accounting practices and a passion for service to the community, Ms. Townsend is committed to the preservation of Houston’s nonprofit organizations as a vital part of our economy and cultural identity.

Leveraging Advocacy to Drive Policy Change
Presented by: Sam Mar, vice president, Arnold Ventures

Arnold Ventures is a philanthropy that seeks to improve the lives of individuals through lasting policy change. The team at Arnold Ventures works on identifying and implementing evidence-based solutions that correct system failures. Areas of focus include criminal justice reform, healthcare, education, public finance, climate change, and electoral reform. Since its inception, Arnold Ventures has made grants totaling over one billion dollars. This session offers a window into how Arnold Ventures thinks about scaling projects from idea generation to policy change using case studies from their work.

Sam Mar is vice president at Arnold Ventures where he leads advocacy and grant-making across a wide array of issues. Before the formation of Arnold Ventures, Mr. Mar was the CEO of Action Now Initiative, a political advocacy organization founded by Laura and John Arnold. Prior to entering the field of philanthropy, Sam held various positions globally in enterprise technology consulting, banking, asset management, private equity, and product innovation. He holds an MBA from IE Business School as well as an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin.

Organizations with 3 or more participants wanting to attend qualify for the group registration discount of $135 per person.


This conference meets the elective requirement for the Leadership Institute for Nonprofit Executives (LINE) Certificate Program. The LINE program is a 10-month journey designed to assist nonprofit leaders and those aspiring to leadership roles in the nonprofit sector to build their current skillsets and become effective and successful leaders of nonprofit organizations.

For assistance with registration or for more information, please email or call 713-348-6009.