It should be obvious that “who” is doing a job or playing a leadership role informs how the job is done. Who we are as people — the experiences that we have, the skill sets and perspectives that we bring, the communities and contexts we call home — all of these things matter in terms of the way that we show up in leadership roles.

It should be obvious. But it often isn’t — at least when it comes to how nonprofit boards think about their own composition.

That’s why the findings from CEP’s recent study, Foundations Respond to Crisis: Lasting Change?, are so striking. In a study designed to explore how real and sustained foundation commitments to racial equity might be, CEP found important evidence about the relationship between “who” the board is and “what” it is doing in terms of its commitment to racial equity. The report states:

“Foundations that have boards with more racial diversity tended to adopt more practices to support grantees and the communities they serve.”

More specifically, leaders who indicated that their board was comprised of at least 25% people of color, were more likely to:

  • Change their grant application and/or selection processes to reach more nonprofits serving communities most affected by systemic inequities.
  • Direct more funds to organizations serving communities of color, lower-income communities, and undocumented immigrants.
  • Plan to increase funding directed to organizations serving Asian American, Black, Latino, and undocumented immigrants once the pandemic is contained.
  • Make new efforts to support Asian American, Latino, and Native American women, as well as lower-income women.
  • Have mechanisms for tracking demographics of the communities they support with their grant dollars.
  • Have approaches for determining whether an organization is led by individuals from the community or communities served.
  • Collect demographic information on the board members, executive leadership, senior leadership, and staff at grantee organizations.

Now, it is important to note that the authors of the report are careful not to claim that the board’s composition causes these actions; they are simply highlighting that the data documents a relationship between those boards that are more racially diverse and those boards that have adopted these practices. BoardSource’s own research revealed similar relationships. In our most recent Leading with Intent study, we found that boards that include people of color are more likely to have adopted diversity, equity, and inclusion practices than boards that do not include people of color[1].

Read the full article about board member diversity by Anne Wallestad at the Center for Effective Philanthropy.