Board DiversityWelcome to our first Blog post.

This post is a continuation of the nonprofit board diversity discussion started in my Jack’s Journal column in the February 2019 edition of our Monthly Newsletter – TANGO Trends. This post will make more sense after you’ve read the column.

Picking up where the TANGO Trends Column left off, let’s get to the “new approach” to board diversity we have in mind.

First, we shaped our approach with our local community in mind (central Connecticut) because board diversity has been a major nonprofit topic here – as most poignantly demonstrated by a Harford Foundation for Public Giving policy (the largest community foundation in Connecticut) not to take grant applications from nonprofits that do not satisfy the foundation’s diversity standards. This policy has been controversial; and while it is well intentioned, the fact that the diversity issue remains on the table means it is appropriate to bring some critical thinking to bear on the matter – the type of analysis described in the TANGO Trends article.

Second, we took deliberate steps, almost like a form of business due diligence, to uncover what was already being done by the many fine organizations in the area. We wanted to learn first, and then determine if there was something we could do to help. We know the Connecticut nonprofit sector quite well and believe categorially that it is populated by people of all persuasions and of good will who are sensitive to the diversity issue, so something seemed amiss to us. Why a lack of progress?

Third, in the course of our discussions we discovered that there have been difficulties attracting minority candidates to existing (and high quality) board training and recruitment programs in the area; and, as we further inquired into this sensitive issue, the explanation for the difficulty was a combination of what we might call the “learning curve” issue (see below), interwoven with concerns that boards of organizations that are seen as “white” (not diverse) will not fully include or respect minority candidates or board members. In the worst case, as uncomfortable as it is to say so, clumsy minority board recruitment efforts by non-diverse boards fosters tokenism – which does not help anyone.

Fourth, the “learning curve,” as we use that term here, is something we all experience when we first join a board of directors – it’s a type of insecurity. We don’t want to sound ignorant speaking in a new group, we don’t want to embarrass ourselves, and so on; and this phenomenon (which all of us went through) can be an even heavier burden for minorities for the reasons stated above. Fred told me it took him many years to understand the way the many moving parts of a board of directors are supposed to work together in service to the organization; and the same was true for me even though I was a practicing lawyer at the time.

So, if the lack of progress on the board diversity is attributable to these issues in a specific way, our conclusion is that we can help with the “learning curve” part of the problem — to give a boost to existing organizations already working on the board diversity issue locally.

As it turns out the TANGO Nonprofit Method textbook (and accompanying online content) could on an almost “turnkey basis,” serve as the basic core curriculum that other local organizations have been looking for to fill in the training gap for board candidates. The goal would be to ameliorate any learning curve insecurities, such that even board newcomers will have every confidence that they can perform at a high level when they first join a board. The TANGO training content deals with non-mission fundamentals and is a base upon which training in other topics such as leadership, fund raising, and the like can be layered (existing organizations in the community already do a first-class job with these other topics). Our training content fills in a gap, and it might help with this complex problem.

The bottom line is that TANGO would make this resource available to potential board candidates, to include a series of live lectures and tutorials that we would conduct to bring the material to life and instill confidence. The other organizations we have spoken with would help attract candidates to the training, provide training in other topics as appropriate, and deal with placements on existing boards.

Let me end this first Blog entry with three quick points.

First, we are at the early stages of this effort, and for that reason won’t use the names of the other organizations we are talking with until later. I am not being coy, I just want to be fair and I do not want to be seen as speaking for them in this Blog. We have a way to go with this effort, and if things fall into place we will work on unified and consistent messaging.

Second, I decided to go public with this effort at an early stage because we want and encourage critical feedback and suggestions. Are we missing something? Are there better ideas? Send any comments and suggestions to me (jhorak@tangoalliance.org) or Fred Jenoure (fjeoure@tangoalliance.org). Help us if you are inclined to do so.

Third, we will use this Blog to report how we do with this effort. We hope it will catch on and make a positive difference. No guarantee of success but we will guarantee that we will give it our best efforts.

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