When Diversity Isn’t Enough: Experiences of Board Members of Color at Agricultural and Environmental Nonprofits

Recruiting one or two people of color to serve on a board without doing any deeper reflection, or making any deeper changes towards inclusivity, equity, and belonging, may have harmful impacts for those individuals. Tokenism still plagues predominant nonprofit board culture. Racist and hostile environments are also pervasive within nonprofit board service. People of color continue to bear the hurt and harm of racism within their service. The words of the respondents in this study speak to the desperate need for more inclusive board cultures and the overhauling of systemic racism evident in agricultural and environmental nonprofit board leadership.

Conclusion, “When Diversity Isn’t Enough: Experiences of Board Members of Color at Agricultural and Environmental Nonprofits”

RAFI-USA is proud to share a new report, “When Diversity Isn’t Enough: Experiences of Board Members of Color at Agricultural and Environmental Nonprofits.” In this report, Dr. Fatimah Salleh, interviewer and lead author, lifts up the words of eleven people of color who serve on the boards of predominantly white agricultural and environmental nonprofits, highlighting the dynamics, rewards, and challenges that they have experienced in that role. It also offers some recommendations, based on those interviews, for boards that are trying to become more diverse and includes a list of relevant resources. Multiple audiences can benefit from this report, including nonprofit leaders, diversity and inclusion professionals, nonprofit and philanthropy advisors, and executive search firms.

To request a free PDF or paper copy of the report, please click here.

Read an excerpt from our Executive Director’s introduction below.

In 2015, RAFI-USA began a series of projects, funded by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, with the goal of increasing the representation of farmers of color on Farm Service Agency (FSA) or Soil and Water Conservation District Committees … Ultimately, as we recruited farmers of color for these roles and worked with them more, it became clear that our project goals would need to change. Most of the farmers had no interest in joining a county committee. Many had bad individual or family experiences with FSA … which made them unwilling to engage further. Some had already served on committees and said they felt it had not made a difference because they were only there as a token and were not listened to. We did not want to urge farmers to put themselves in environments that were harmful, and changed the focus of our work to exploring the topic of the environments within committees that make them uncomfortable or unsafe places for Black people, indigenous people, and people of color to participate.

We broadened the scope of our work to include nonprofit boards in the agricultural or environmental sectors, organizations which also often make decisions about resource distribution, and which often have only one or no people of color on their boards. We knew that sitting on nonprofit boards could help people of color build leadership experience, but we were also hearing stories of board service not being a positive experience …

We decided to conduct interviews with board members of color, because it is not enough to recruit them and assume the work is done: it is also about what happens to people of color once they are in those spaces. These interviews examine the cost of “diversity” on the people of color sitting on nonprofit boards. Their pictures are displayed on websites as proof of “diverse” boards. We must hear their stories as well.

Edna Rodriguez
Executive Director, RAFI-USA

“When Diversity Isn’t Enough: Experiences of Board Members of Color at Agricultural and Environmental Nonprofits” was written by Dr. Fatimah Salleh, primary author and interviewer and Kavita Koppa, contributing author and reviewer. Edna Rodriguez, RAFI-USA Executive Director, was the originator of this project. She gathered a group of collaborators, helped construct the methodology, recruited additional support, and provided review. RAFI-USA staff Margaret Krome-Lukens, Michelle Osborne, Stephanie Terry, and Jarred White also contributed. Reviewers included Eowyn Corral, Rick Moyers, Susan Sachs, and Lydia Villanueva.

We especially thank all those who graciously shared their experiences with us for this publication. We are grateful for your courage, candor, and service to bringing more justice into your work.

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