The sixth in our series of blog posts written by BLF 2013 speakers.
Much has been written about board diversity (or the lack thereof) on nonprofit and foundation boards. For example, a 2010 Council on Foundations’s survey of approximately 500 foundations found that only 15 percent of foundation board members were people of color. Another study by the Urban Institute found that even in the highly diverse Baltimore-Washington, D.C. region, where people of color comprise a minimum of 40 percent and a high of 70 percent of the population, only 23 percent of nonprofit board members were people of color. Each report conveys a palpable despondency, as if the challenge were so formidable it would be impossible to change.
Here at the Consumer Health Foundation (CHF), we believe it is entirely possible to achieve board diversity. We have experienced it for ourselves, and we are witnessing change on the boards of some of our grantee partners, including Bread for the City (BFC), whose story will be shared here and at the 2013 BoardSource Leadership Forum in Los Angeles.
A Little Background
CHF’s 2013 Board of Trustees has 13 members, eight of whom identify as African-American, Asian-American, or Latino, representing 62 percent of the board. In addition, there are other forms of diversity that we cultivate and monitor (e.g., gender and age) as well as others that we are starting to explore, such as socio-economic position. Because nonprofit and foundation boards are, in general, not currently networked to create and sustain diversity, it will require priority and intentionality.
Racial/ethnic diversity is one of CHF’s highest priorities because we cannot afford to be without any of the knowledge, experience, and networks of more than half the people in our region. We believe this is an imperative — the only way to achieve positive health and social outcomes in an increasingly diverse region. Thus, we make the effort during our annual call for board members to recruit candidates using diverse networks. We also create an inclusive environment and ensure that people of color are in positions of leadership on the board.
In addition, we invest resources to aid our nonprofit partners. Some of them, like us, are striving to prioritize and be intentional about board diversity. BFC is one of them. In their own words, here is a preview of the story they will share at BLF on November 7 and 8.
The Story of Bread for the City
For nearly 40 years, BFC has provided food, clothing, legal, medical, advocacy, and social services to DC residents; almost all (99 percent) of our consumers are people of color, predominantly African American. We have always believed in the importance of a board that includes people who reflect the culture and ethnic heritage of those we serve. But in the past two years, board diversity has become a priority for us, largely due to the convergence of four new goals adopted in January 2013 through our strategic plan:
1) Increase opportunities for our clients and patients to engage and participate in our poverty relief and social change efforts
2) Coordinate with and be accountable to our clients and other community stakeholders as we advocate for social justice
3) Consider our work through a racial equity lens, thus affirmatively seeking to reverse the negative socioeconomic outcomes disproportionately experienced by people of color
4) Convert our medical clinic into a federally qualified health center, that by federal regulation requires a board composition of at least 51 percent consumers
Thanks to a growing partnership with and funding support from CHF, BFC’s staff and board members have attended racial equity workshops over the past two years, and a staff committee is currently finalizing a Racial Equity Action Plan to guide our efforts to include people of color in every aspect of our work, including on our board of directors.
Through a combination of term limits and board members who fully supported the restructuring, we have transformed our board — from 12 Caucasians and six people of color to 11 people of color and five Caucasians. Eight board members are patients of our medical practice; one serves as secretary of the board. Our consumers, all people of color, now constitute the majority of the board, so it is socio-economically as well as racially diverse. Stay tuned as our quest for racial and socio-economic justice continues.
How does your quest go?