Take a close look at the board members of many, if not most, local nonprofits and you’ll notice people of color are either missing entirely or make up just a fraction of a particular board’s membership.
It’s s a problem The New Philanthropists, a collaboration between GivingCity Austin and Mando Rayo + Collective, is trying to address by having the much-needed conversation and matching interested individuals with nonprofits. On Tuesday, nearly 100 members of local nonprofits as well as concerned citizens gathered at the KLRU studios at the University of Texas for the second installment of The New Philanthropists speaker series.
On hand to underline the urgency of the local efforts to increase diversity in nonprofit boards was Michael D. Smith, special assistant to President Barack Obama and senior director of cabinet affairs for My Brother’s Keeper at the White House. During his one-hour keynote address, Smith shared some of his personal experiences in the world of charity and reminded the audience of the benefits of a diverse executive board. Before coming to work for the White House, Smith was senior vice president of social innovation at the Case Foundation.
Good intentions notwithstanding, non-profit leaders may very well have a plan on how to help low-income Central Texans, many of whom are of families of color, move out of poverty and access better education. But, if these organizations have no one on their board with similar life experiences as those they hope to serve, the organization’s reach will be limited. Long-term impact comes with a deep and wide enough pool of diverse opinions and ideas, which includes more people of color.
Some Austin nonprofits have already made a conscious shift to include more experienced, bright people of color on their executive boards, but more groups need to follow suit.
President Obama would say that, “this is not just a moral obligation. This is about an economic imperative,” Smith told Tuesday’s audience. “And it is about having the courage to break down the barriers of racism, of inequities and some of the implicit bias that we see every single day.”
“If we can close the gap in employment between young men of color age 16 to 24 and their peers, we’d see an increase in the GDP by 2 percent,” Smith continued.
With an increasing need for science, technology, engineering and mathematics jobs in Texas and a narrow pipeline of talented young people to fill them, nonprofits can help fill the gap. So, it’s imperative that the organizations focused on helping children of color succeed in reaching those kids. Having adequate representation of that community – someone who knows the pulse of the people, how to reach them, as well as knows what brings them together and tears them apart – at the table when writing its mission is key to that success.
“If we can get to that place and end that measure of segregation (of non-diverse executive boards), that intellectual segregation that this city still has, we will be in such a wonderful place,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler, who acknowledges the need for more diverse nonprofit executive boards, said in his introduction of Smith. “We’ll function better and find that the mission of these organizations perhaps changes, but will meet its mission and purpose in ways that are today aren’t really being met.” And that, my friends, will benefit us all.