Tools & Resources

Foundation Board Diversity

In 2017, BoardSource released Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices, a report on more than 1,300 nonprofits' leadership practices, including responses from 1,759 chief executives and board chairs within those organization. Among these, 141 foundation leaders — 111 chief executives and 30 board chairs — responded to the survey. This report discussed below, Foundation Board Leadership, takes a closer look at the subset of 141 foundation respondents.
In reviewing the results, MIE focuses below on elements of the report surfacing patterns in board diversity. While the sample of foundation responses is not representative of the industry as a whole, and the number of family foundations— 14, or 13% of total respondents — also influence the results, the survey raises valuable questions for leaders to consider as they examine their own individual organizations and board. To read the full report, you can access the pdf below. 

2017 Findings

Foundation boards may lack racial and ethnic diversity in profound ways:
  • 24% of public charity boards were 100% percent white
  • Of the 111 private foundations surveyed, 85% of the total number of board members at their organizations were white, and 40% of foundation boards were 100% white
  • Excluding family foundation, 35% of foundation boards did not have not a single leader of color on their board
Of the foundation boards that report that they are all-white in composition, there may not be significant will to change:
  • 55% reported that they were dissatisfied with their board’s racial and ethnic diversity
  • 40% reported that they are neither satisfied or dissatisfied
  • 5% said they are extremely satisfied with their board’s racial and ethnic diversity
The survey for the next edition of Leading with Intent is now open. Chief executives and board chairs are invited to participate in the survey by answering questions about their board’s governance practices by June 7, 2019. The importance of this survey, and in general the need to support research and data generation around the issue of diversity in foundation boards was emphasized in this open letter by Robert Ross, President and CEO of The California Endowment, Luz Vega Marquis, President and CEO of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, and Stephen Heintz, President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
In reflecting on the results in Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation's journey towards aligning their endowment with racial equity goals, CEO Sherece West-Scantlebury notes in this essay in Mission Investors Exchange's Stanford Social Innovation Review series that board diversity may also affect decisions associated with advancing racial equity in impact investing. Read West-Scantlebury's essay here, as well as a response by BoardSource CEO, Anne Wallestad, in the comments section at the end.


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