Foundation and nonprofit leaders came together to discuss changes made to philanthropic practice in response to the crises of the last two years at CEP’s third 2021 Virtual Learning Session. In this excerpt, the panelists respond to one of the findings of CEP’s new research, “Foundations Respond to Crisis: Lasting Change?”: foundations that have boards with more racial diversity tended to adopt more practices to support grantees and the communities they serve. Yet, nearly half of foundation leaders say that their boards are the biggest impediment to their foundation’s ability to advance racial equity.

A video recording of the event, including a table-setting performance from 2021 U.S. Youth Poet Laureate Alexandra Huynh and a presentation of CEP’s latest research, can be found here. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Moderator Hilary Pennington, executive vice president of programs, Ford Foundation: What will it take to sustain changes like this and what gets in our way? And if you guys don’t mind, let’s talk about boards. You know, those findings at the end of the CEP data are so striking. So, how do you bring your boards along in support of these kinds of practices? Especially in light of the data in the survey about the difference that the composition of the board makes. […]

Crystal Hayling, executive director, The Libra Foundation: So, because I know CEP well…I’m just going to treat this like a family conversation and be totally honest. There are not many women who look like me who run family foundations. And part of that has to do with the fact that most families select people who they trust and who they have deep relationships with. And it is indicative of the society that we live in that for most of those families that are white and are wealthy, they don’t necessarily have relationships with African Americans or other people of color.

So, I have to say that already, by hiring me, the family that I work for demonstrated a willingness to break out of what their normal traditional comforts might have been. To say, “there’s a certain kind of work that we want to do and we want somebody with the kind of experience that can do it.” So, the family was already committed to human rights work. They knew that they wanted to professionalize their family foundation, which had been a little bit more like a kitchen table than like a board table, and so they brought in someone like me who’s got about 30 years of experience in philanthropy.

When I interviewed for the role, I said that if you are doing mostly work in the United States and you have a human rights focus, then you have to have a racial justice lens, because race is the sorting hat in America, and so we have to be able to look at that.

I also pushed the board around issues of being willing to push more authority down to the staff who had engaged in trust-based philanthropy with our grantee partners and to say to them, trust us to do things, and then we will learn about them as we move along together, as opposed to saying, let us prove something to you upfront, convince you of how right it is and inextricably prove [it] and then say, how do we move together?

I would say those are some of the things that we have done: push the decision-making farther down, trust in people who are not necessarily the same folks that we’ve always seen as partners, and really be willing to say, [as] the great LaTosha Brown from Black Voters Matter says…“racism makes all institutions unjust.” So, we have to be willing to go to those critical root causes of many of the inequities and injustices that we see and be willing to tackle them head on.

Read the full article about building board support on issues of racial equity by Chloe Heskett at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.