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For almost 30 years, I’ve been part of a sector-wide conversation about the lack of diversity on nonprofit boards and the need to do better. In retrospect, I realize that our initial arguments were grounded primarily in a belief in the importance of representation. We also frequently cited research that demonstrated that diverse groups made better decisions, and argued that as the population was becoming more diverse boards needed to follow suit or risk missing out on large groups of potential board members. Much to the vexation of everyone involved, our admonitions seemed to have little impact on the realities of board composition.
White leaders and predominantly white leadership groups exercise power all the time — making decisions about how money will be spent and distributed, where programs will be offered, what the policies will be for participation — the list goes on and on.
These decisions often have the greatest impact on people and communities of color and others who have been historically marginalized by systemic racism and structural bias. And too often, those same people and communities are not consulted about either the initial decisions or the resulting outcomes.
I might not have come to this realization as quickly if I hadn’t begun working as a consultant with Fund for Shared Insight in 2017. Fund for Shared Insight is a national funder collaborative supported by some of the largest and best-known private foundations in the United States with a goal of promoting high-quality listening and feedback as a strategy to improve philanthropy and nonprofit service delivery.
Shared Insight’s signature initiative is Listen4Good, a capacity-building program that helps direct-service organizations design and implement a simple feedback survey, based on the Net Promoter System, with the people they serve. To date, Listen4Good has helped more than 550 organizations across the country implement high-quality feedback loops. More than 100 funders have nominated and underwritten costs for their grantees to participate.
What these organizations have learned from their clients, and how they’ve changed as a result, has been remarkable. Food banks realized that they weren’t offering staples that reflected the dietary preferences of clients. An employment program heard that its arbitrary 7 a.m. starting time for training sessions was creating hardships for parents with young children and complicated transportation logistics. An arts program for young people realized that participants in its grant-funded programs, predominantly students of color, didn’t experience the same sense of inclusion as its fee-paying clients.
Read the full article about improving boards by Rick Moyers at BoardSource.