Why I Joined the Fresh Energy Board

ON April 8, 2022

In honor of Earth Day

After finishing up as Finance Committee and Board Chair of the Citizens League I had decided not to serve on any more nonprofit boards. As much as I love the work, after continuous Board service since 1994 I figured I’d find another outlet for my volunteer time.

Then I had lunch with Michael Noble, Executive Director at Fresh Energy. Introduced by our mutual friend and Carleton classmate Elizabeth McGeveran, I think we each thought it was just a get-to-know-you meeting. I’ve always been passionate about the environment, having grown up in the big woods of Minnetonka (that’s a story for another time). Studying public policy at Harvard Kennedy School showed me how important policy is in truly addressing climate change. I was so inspired listening to Michael talk about Fresh Energy’s impressive track record.

I have to admit I was one of those who had kind of retreated into helpless despair when it came to climate change. The problem is so big and we humans seem so reluctant to change our habits, our companies continue to pollute, and our government leaders are timid, at best. 

Joining the Fresh Energy Board changed all that. I’ve met amazing people like Deepinder Singh, founder and CEO of 75f, making our existing buildings “smart”, more comfortable and energy efficient at the same time. I met Kristel Porter, Executive Director of MN Renewable Now, connecting underserved residents to renewable energy. I also got to meet amazing staff like Anjali Bains, Lead Director Energy Access & Equity and Sarah Clark, Deputy Executive Director. What can I say, now I’m hooked.

Lately some of the attendees at our monthly Impact Investing Roundtable asked me about volunteering and I have to say, please do consider Board service. It’s open to everyone and all of the thousands of nonprofit organizations need a Board of Directors. If you’re not sure what’s involved, you can take a class through Propel for Nonprofits. Here are my quick tips:

  • Figure out what cause you’re passionate about and look at Smart Givers for reputable nonprofit organizations (read our Cogent Principal, Terri Barreiro’s blog on the topic Four Steps to Donate Like an Investor
  • Get to know these organizations by volunteering
  • Consider a financial donation and get your friends/ family involved (do the same for their causes). Even small amounts of money make a big difference.

I’d love to hear your stories about Board service. Tweet me your thoughts @susan_hammel or email.

Susan serves on three boards: Fresh Energy, Carleton Careers Advisory Board, and the Trillium Family Foundation. She also is the volunteer President of the MN Alumnae Network of Harvard Women. Her previous boards include Pro Mujer, Children’s Home Society (was Family Services), St. Paul Arts Partnership, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, Asian American LEAD, Arts Council of Fairfax County, NPH USA, Citizens League, Sunrise Banks and the Minnetonka Yacht Club.

Susan Hammel Bio:  As a philosophy major who went to Wall Street, Susan Hammel translates between passionate social changemakers and expert accountants.  In her role as President and Founder of Cogent Consulting Inc., Susan serves as MCF Executive in Residence for impact investing and led the charge to map the Twin Cities impact investing ecosystem. As a native Minnesotan, Susan is dedicated to the entire community and brings professional experience from New York, Washington DC and Chicago to the region. 

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What I'm doing now

As we emerge cautiously from our pandemic caves, it’s wonderful to be out with humans again, at least a little bit. Then again Zoom is part of our workplace culture now and I’m grateful for the technology, as is our Cogent principal, Terri Barreiro, who I enjoy seeing weekly at Impact Hub MSP, which she co-founded with Katie Kalkman. Lately, I have had the good fortune to be spending time with talented Black entrepreneurs and they give me a lot of hope for our communities: people like Ian Alexander, Anisha Murphy, and Karine Blanc. You’ll note that many of the people leading this work are women and in honor of Women’s History Month, I also want to give a shout to someone I’ve admired for years: the late great Madeline Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State. 

It’s got me thinking about the suspicion many in the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors have regarding the for-profit sector. Skepticism and pointed questions are good but it is possible that the for-profit sector will develop sustainable, scalable solutions to our pressing challenges: racial justice, gender equality, climate change, economic opportunity for all, to name a few. My advice--look beyond someone’s tax status and focus on the work they’re doing. If you’re not sure of a for-profit entrepreneur’s motives, see if they are a Public Benefit Corporation, like Cogent and/or B-Lab certified like one of my favorites: Binary Bridge founded by Lori Most, bringing mobile health technology to places around the world.