Trustee Aprendizaje: Creating a Seat at the Table

Hispanics in Philanthropy & C-Suite Leadership 

In 2019, in partnership with BoardSource, HIP set out on a regional listening tour with Latinx Trustees to document their journey and what they saw as opportunities and challenges within the foundations they serve. A synopsis provided below, Learnings from Listening Sessions with Latinx Trustees. 

What resulted—in addition to the Learnings from Listening Sessions with Latinx Trustees found below—is a 5-episode podcast series, Trustee Aprendizaje: Creating a Seat at the Table, moderated by broadcast journalist Ray Suarez in which he dives deeper into conversation with a few Latinx C-suite philanthropic-serving leaders from the Ford Foundation, Kresge Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and more, to gain a first person perspective into the realities when power and Latinx identity intersect and outline a path forward. 

Hispanics in Philanthropy and BoardSource – Learnings from Listening Sessions with Latinx Trustees (2019) 

There is an unfortunate reality that has existed for generations and continues to impede our journey toward racial equity: foundation board leadership is severely lacking in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As documented in BoardSource Leading with Intent study in 2017, the vast majority of nonprofit board members are white, and foundation boards are no exception. The foundation boards that were surveyed report that 85% of their board members are white; this homogeneous board composition creates a board environment in which diverse perspectives are not included and the board becomes more susceptible to “blind spots” that can impair the organization’s ability to make optimal strategic decisions and disconnect the organization from the community that it serves. With the Hispanic and Latinx community making up 18.5% of the population according to census data from 2019 the power imbalance between foundations, grantees, and the communities being served becomes magnified when a diversity of perspectives is missing from the board room.

All of these factors provided the impetus for Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) and BoardSource to initiate a year long series of listening sessions across the country (New York; Chicago; Washington, DC; Albuquerque; and Oakland) in 2019 that were focused on gaining insights from Latinx trustees of foundation boards. The purpose of the sessions was to provide opportunities for the trustees to openly discuss the opportunities and challenges within foundation leadership as it relates to diversity, inclusion, and equity and – more specifically – the roles that Latinx trustees could play in informing and effecting change in increasing the number of Latinx in boards. We provided opportunities for Latinx trustees from several regions to share their perspectives, and the intimate nature of the convenings (ranging from 6-13 trustees in each meeting) created an environment of trust and allowed the trustees to provide candid feedback in areas such as: the degree to which they have felt valued and included; their level of influence on their boards; their frustrations and challenges; and how they are making an impact.  

Here’s what we heard:

  • We need additional data that tells the story of inequity –  Trustees highlighted the need for a dashboard or “report card” highlighting Latinx participation and support from foundations in categories such as the percentages of Latinx individuals serving as foundation board and staff members and percentages of foundation dollars supporting Latinx-serving organizations (HIP has collaborated with Candid on a dashboard called LatinxFunders which provides illuminating data in this area). Trustees felt that if this data were broadly publicized, foundations would feel more urgency to make significant change happen more quickly. The difficulty with this “report card” that we must stay aware of is the unintentional perpetuation of shame and blame. How do we move into accountability in a safe way?
  • We need to change the way that grantmakers fund – Trustees emphasized that the nonprofit sector needs foundations to modify their traditional approaches to philanthropy by taking steps such as extending grants from one year to three year cycles, developing and implementing more equitable requirements and standards for grant application and approval processes, and creating a pipeline of people of color as investment managers. With the magnification of inequities amidst COVID-19 pandemic we saw bold action from foundations this needs to happen again on a board level. 
  • Nonprofits serving people of color should collaborate more often – Trustees agreed that Latinx, African American, Asian American, and Native American constituencies, among others, have an opportunity to acknowledge their common goals and challenges of influencing the philanthropic sector to direct more resources to underserved communities and to leverage their collective power by aligning themselves in agenda and goal-setting when interacting with the philanthropic community. 
  • We need to acknowledge how traditional views of charity perpetuate racial inequity and how stereotypes of “givers” and “receivers” perpetuate racism – Trustees shared strong feelings that primarily white-led foundations tend to undervalue the contributions that Latinx trustees (and people of color in general) can add to their boards (i.e., Latinx trustees serving as a bridge/translator between the community and the organization), and the trustees underscored the need to change the national narrative that categorizes the Latinx community as being comprised of “receivers” rather than “contributors.”
  • We need to identify and implement more effective strategies to overcome the formidable challenge of obtaining foundation board support and commitmentThere was consensus in several of the sessions that foundation boards are generally reluctant to commit to this work.  Trustees stated that boards were uncomfortable talking about race (and generally preferred to focus on “class” rather than “race”).  They also noted that it is important to understand the types of information that resonate with individual board members; some have a preference for data, others are more influenced by narratives about personal experiences, so the optimal strategy is to leverage both data and experiences to support the case for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion.  Lastly, trustees acknowledged the personal risk involved with being a leader in this space, stating that board members are often reluctant to lead because they fear the possibility of repercussions that would diminish their acceptance or influence within the board.

As we reflect on each of the five sessions that we organized and participated in, we were inspired by a few observations:

  • The desire of the trustees to create a new “path forward”, not just for themselves but also for the next generation of Latinx trustees.  Many of the trustees noted that they did not have the benefit of having strong Latinx trustees as mentors early in their careers, and they want to be better mentors for future Latinx trustees and leaders.
  • The “spirit of community” between the participants.  The trustees seemed to gain strength from being able to share their stories and ideas with each other, and they were very enthusiastic about committing to maintain contact with each other well into the future.
  • Their persistence – their ability to remain focused on their objectives of effecting change in philanthropy despite all of the obstacles that they identified throughout the sessions.

We thank the trustees for their participation, candor, and commitment as we all work toward the goal of transforming the philanthropic sector to become more diverse in its composition, more inclusive in its culture, and more equity-focused in recognizing its place within the social sector and the society in which we all live.  We can all envision the transformation that needs to take place – now it is incumbent upon ALL of us to do what it takes to make it happen.

By Jim Taylor BoardSource and HIP

(We thank Borealis Philanthropy for its support in funding the listening session series through its Racial Equity in Philanthropy Fund, and Makiyah Moody of La Piana Consulting for facilitating all of the sessions.)

Trustee Aprendizaje: Creating a Seat at the Table

Philanthropy has not kept up with Latinx representation as Trustees, only 4.6% of foundation trustees are Latinos according to the 2018 Diversity Among Philanthropic Professionals  Survey, while Latinos will soon be a fifth of the U.S. population. The lack of representation can lead to complex problems that cannot be resolved unilaterally, and diverse representation is important to inform solutions. But foundations have a blind spot as to how board representation of the right people, in the right place, at the right time, asking the right questions can be instrumental in fulfilling those missions.

Trustee Aprendizaje, focuses on the critical role of trustees in charting the role of American philanthropy, especially in light of the urgent social and economic issues facing the broader Latinx community. In partnership with HIP, Ray Suarez reached out to Latinx trustees who have a seat at the table including; Cecilia Muñoz who serves on multiple boards including the Kresge Foundation, OSF & MacArthur Foundation, Sam Zamarripa who serves at The Annie E. Casey Foundation, Lourdes Lopez who serve at the Ford Foundation, Ophelia Basgal who serves for The San Francisco Foundation, Robert Raben serves on the Unidos Action Fund, Aixa Beauchamp co-founder of Latino Legacy Fund, Ramón Murguía who serves for W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Carmen Rojas CEO of Marguerite Casey Foundation. Together Ray Suarez engaged foundations in a dialog designed to accelerate the appointment of Latinx trustees through data and personal stories. To better understand What needs to happen now? listen to the 5-episode podcast series. 

Episode 1: “The State of the Boards” in Philanthropy

Episode 2: Disrupting Culture in Boards to Think Broader

Episode 3: Creating Intentional Space for Diversity

Episode 4: Truth & Power for Impact

Episode 5: Looking Towards the Future

We would like to thank Borealis Philanthropy for its support in funding the listening session series through its Racial Equity in Philanthropy Fund, and Makiyah Moody of La Piana Consulting for facilitating all of the sessions and The Annie E. Casey Foundation for its support in funding the Trustee Aprendizaje: Creating a Seat at the Table Podcast series, and Ray Suarez for moderating all of the interviews and co-developing with HIP.