Mar 29, 2022 - News

Diversifying Austin's nonprofit boards

Illustration of a conference table surrounded by white chairs and one black chair

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An Austin nonprofit is pushing fellow organizations to install underrepresented people in board positions.

Driving the news: March 29 is The New Philanthropists Day in Austin, per a draft of a proclamation provided by the office of Austin Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison.

The big picture: The New Philanthropists was founded by Monica Maldonado Williams and Mando Rayo to:

  • Build a leadership pipeline for people of color.
  • Cultivate diversity, equity and inclusion within nonprofit boards.
  • Enable nonprofits to be more effective stewards of public trust and produce better outcomes.

What they're saying: "Mainstream nonprofit boards … are probably the ones with the worst problems with representation on their boards," Paulina Artieda, executive director of The New Philanthropists, tells Axios.

  • "A lot of that stems from wealth circles, time, flexibility, money and the connections to be on there," she says.
  • "It's the good old referral system. What keeps from diversity is a lack of diversity," she adds.

Compounding the problem: Tokenism, as boards add underrepresented candidates but don't address underlying problems.

Why it matters: Key decisions about what programs to cut are at stake, says Artieda.

  • And nonprofits benefit from truly diverse boards, which have the potential to enrich organizations in currencies beyond money.

By the numbers: No one is currently capturing central Texas nonprofit board diversity data, Artieda says.

  • "Nonprofits generally don't want to disclose that," she says.

On the other hand: Some nonprofits that have partnered with TNP are diversifying their boards and programming, Artieda says, pointing to Caritas, Texas Health Action, It's Time Texas, the Contemporary Austin and Family Eldercare Austin.

Other successes: The New Philanthropists trains underrepresented people for leadership positions, and some have notched notable successes, including:

  • Kimberly Holiday, the first Black woman elected to the Pflugerville City Council.
  • Denise Hernández, who is openly gay and Latina, was recently elected as a Travis County judge.
  • Maria Brown-Spence, who started a bereavement support nonprofit for Black and Latino military-connected community members.
  • And it has matched potential board members to nonprofits such as Forklift Danceworks.

"There's a ripple effect to our work we're just starting to see," Artieda says.

What's next: Foundations and grant-making organizations should make board diversity a qualification for getting money, Artieda says.

  • "The New Philanthropists is such a great organization that fills such an important niche," Harper-Madison tells Axios. "Frankly, I wish we could do more to honor the good work they do to make sure our nonprofits reflect the communities they serve while also broadening access to leadership opportunities for more people in our diverse city."

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