NEW PHILANTHROPISTS: 8 Ways to increase nonprofit board diversity

At The New Philanthropists inaugural event, a panel discussion presented by GivingCity Austin and Mando Rayo + Collective and hosted by RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service, on July 28, 2015, panelists offered several ideas for engaging and recruiting people of color to nonprofit board service. Special thanks to Vanessa Sarria, City of Austin Mayor’s Office, who served as the panel moderator and identified these action items.

Panelists included Christopher Kennedy, Leadership Austin; Erica Saenz, University of Texas at Austin Division of Diversity and Community Engagement; Ken Gladish, Seton Foundation; Llyas Saluhud-Din, VChain Solutions; Sonia Kotecha, CASA of Travis County and Virginia Cumberbatch, Hux Storyhouse.

1. Make diversity a strategic priority and create a culture of diversity.

Commitment to diversity in leadership both sets the tone and creates the conditions for systemic change. Intentionally put measures in place to imbed a culture of diversity within the organization and the board.

2. Break out of your comfort zone.

With more diverse board members, discussion at the board room table will need to evolve. Leaders will need to consider new options and try new things. Gladish mentioned that perhaps the usual suspects approached for boards need to say “no” and instead offer talented board prospects who are people of color. Kennedy talked about identifying nontraditional prospects who have demonstrated leadership in the community and, with a little additional training, could be cultivated to serve as board members. For example, after meeting with Alan Graham about Mobile Loaves and Fishes’ Community First! Village, Kennedy realized that the formerly homeless president of the Community First! homeowners association might become a strong board prospect.

3. Capitalize on all formal and “informal” networks.

Don’t just rely on close personal contacts but rather take advantage of your on-line and social media network, specifically those groups that connect people of color. Another benefit is that the younger, Millennial members of these organizations are more likely to be active online.

4. Be proactive through targeted recruitment and cultivation.

Kotecha mentioned that the Asian community has their own set of networking that could be tapped into and that almost every demographic target has an affinity group in Austin. For example, Gary Linder of PeopleFund, which provides small business loans and business assistance to with limited access to these services, has targeted board prospect with great success; 9 of his 13 board members are people of color, most of whom he purposefully sought out from the banking and financial industries and were involved in minority chambers of commerce.

5. Ensure engagement, not just representation.

Consider shrinking your board and then focusing on diversifying representation. With a more nimble size, new “diverse” board members can more actively engaged. Experiment with new techniques to surface minority opinions and a learning framework for workshops and presentations. Ensure there is an affinity for the organization and mission; topics that are important to the person being recruited/considered. Be clear about expectations and role.

6. Recognize that there’s no quick fix.

Recognize that the journey of building a governance structure that is more reflective of the communities they serve are not an overnight fix. Gladish is proud of the diversity among Seton employees but recognizes that aside from Seton Healthcare Family president and CEO Jesus Garza, there is little diversity at the top.

7. Line up senior ambassadors.

Leadership development and group/individual mentoring is important. Salahud-din described his personal journey and role models who looked like him that made a difference. Gladish believes current board members should cultivate and mentor people of color to take their places.

8. Develop the pipeline and count/report on results.

Gladish described how as a community we can intentionally plan for the future and assure diversity on nonprofit boards a decade or two in the future. He also wondered if funders should require information about diversity from organizations seeking funding. Consider mandating that entities/individuals conducting board member searches provide a diverse pool of candidates for consideration.

Currently there are a number of organizations in Austin preparing leaders of color; there are also a number of boards actively seeking to diversify. But according to some members of this panel, the intent has been well meaning but the impact is not there… yet.

The New Philanthropists project, a partnership of GivingCity Austin and Mando Rayo + Collective, aims to gather these efforts and close the gaps among them, creating a pipeline for success. This panel was the first of many events that we hope will elevate the conversation, gather people working on a solution and connect board prospects with those seeking to diversify their membership.

For more information and to sign up for news about our progress and upcoming events, visit


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