By last count, more than 75 percent of all nonprofit board members in Austin were white, even though many nonprofits serve mostly minorities. That disparity between the people being served and the people leading organizations that serve them can diminish a nonprofit’s impact, say local leaders.
That’s why a new effort to place more minorities on nonprofit boards is gaining traction in Austin.
All nonprofits are required to have a board, whose role it is to govern the organization, manage its finances and ensure the nonprofit can sustain itself. But the New Philanthropists, a nonprofit itself, believes that nonprofit boards can’t be as effective unless they include members of the community they serve. The New Philanthropists focuses on recruiting and training minorities to serve on nonprofit boards while also training nonprofit groups about diversity and inclusion. It launched Dec. 6 with a recruiting event at the St. David’s Foundation.
“Most nonprofits in Austin want to have more diversity on their boards,” said founder Armando Rayo, “but they don’t know how to find people outside their circles. So they continue to recruit the same type of people over and over again. It’s not healthy for the organization.”
In an often-cited 2015 study by McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm, a review of data showed that organizations with diverse boards outperform those with more homogeneous boards.
“Diversity has been proven through research to improve the overall work of any organization. So nonprofits can work under that same premise,” said William Buster, executive vice president of community investments for the St. David’s Foundation, a major funder of the New Philanthropists. When a nonprofit board is more diverse, Buster said, “it can deliver services better, it understands the dynamics of the community it serves, it asks the right questions.”
A 2011 report by Mission Capital showed that, of Austin nonprofits surveyed, 78 percent of their board members were white. A 2017 report by industry think-tank BoardSource showed that, across the country, 84 percent of nonprofit board members were white.
Buster says Austin nonprofits are starting to seek out more minority board members. “But part of the struggle is that board members are recruited through relationships. Boards are built from inside out,” he said. “You don’t put an ad in the paper.”
While the New Philanthropists has plans to build a database of prospective minority board members, Rayo said the key in placing them on boards will be in building those relationships over time.
“You can’t just look for a Hispanic lawyer and check that box,” said Rayo. “It’s got to be the right fit and they can’t be a token. So we’re talking about people getting to know each other and understanding what board service is about, so we can make sure they’re more effective.”
Board member Toya Cirica Bell, an attorney who serves as board chair of Leadership Austin, says that match is crucial in making sure the board member goes on to serve the nonprofit effectively.
“Personally, I think that there are very good intentions all around,” said Bell. “However, nonprofit leaders should do more than simply recruit diverse board members. Once these members are on board, seek out and listen to the varied voices around the boardroom.”
Giving City Austin
This article is published through a partnership with Giving City Austin, which reports on the area’s nonprofit community. Read more Giving City stories at GivingCityAustin.com.