A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Making Your Board More Equitable Requires an Intentional Transformation

Photo by August de Richelieu from Pexels

The National Recreation Foundation (NRF), with roots going back to 1919, supports youth development through recreation. It believes all young people should have the opportunity to have positive recreational experiences, regardless of their geographic, social or economic status. When these experiences are accessible to everyone, everywhere, they build strong kids and communities.

In the summer of 2019, Jonathan Scott, Chair of NRF’s Governance Committee, and John McCarter, NRF’s Board President, resumed a conversation they’d been having over two year that focused on the diversity of the foundation’s board of trustees.

Historically, the board was comprised mostly of White businessmen. They didn’t understand the experiences of BIPOC youths in their community.

Scott and McCarter believed NRF’s board leadership should reflect a broad range of perspectives, expertise, world views and lived experiences to help NRF to better achieve its mission through reaching more youths and changing more lives.

While reviewing board nominations, Scott and McCarter saw that without making major changes to their approach, it would take until 2035 before the board was truly representative.

Scott and McCarter brought Sophie Twichell, NRF’s Executive Director, and board members Elsie McCabe Thompson and Joe Anderson into the conversation. They all agreed that with a strategic board development process, NRF could enhance its impact and better achieve the organization’s mission.

Identifying gaps on the board

NRF wanted trustees who could inform their work in credible, thoughtful ways. People who had a passion for youth development (and especially youth experiencing economic or health challenges) as well as a background in public health, outdoor recreation, social justice investment and/or academia.

NRF created a roadmap that outlined where it was and where it wanted to go.

It took a close look at its roster of trustees, taking into account gender, age, ethnicity, geographic region, length of service on the board, and area of expertise.

NRF used this information to identify gaps it needed to fill. It set a goal to boost board diversity and pledged 100% turnover to bring on a new class of diverse board members within five to eight years.

Finding new board members

NRF could not rely on their usual tactics to recruit new candidates to the board. Similarly, simply bringing on a new diverse set of members wasn’t enough. NRF would need to successfully integrate new trustees into the organization’s history and culture.

To help with these challenges, they brought in an outside consultant, Koya Partners.

Koya created a position statement about NRF and its mission to share with prospects. And NRF leveraged Koya’s network of contacts in environmental education, conservation and youth development to create a targeted list of potential candidates.

Despite COVID-19, NRF and Koya continued screening potential board members virtually. At the NRF board meetings in the spring and summer of 2020, they approved eight trustee candidates to join the board—50% being women, seven of the eight identify as Persons of Color, and they represent new geographic regions. Most importantly, they all had the requisite professional experience.

Onboarding new board members

NRF’s Governance Committee developed a thoughtful plan to transition long-serving trustees off gradually. NRF also implemented a mentoring program, where each new board member was assigned a seasoned trustee to give them guidance and act as a sounding board.

Developing an intentional approach was the key to NRF’s success, and they documented the process throughout their work to maintain the same quality of recruitment moving forward. Board membership expanded from 17 to 27 in 2019 and 2020—thus the board was remade in under two years.

Seeing positive results already

NRF is already reaping the benefits of its newly expanded board.

New trustees have identified great programs across the country to support, which had not been on NRF’s radar. Similarly, the foundation is better positioned to engage in new partnerships through a more expansive networks of contacts.

NRF’s new trustees are thought leaders, so they’re also giving NRF enhanced credibility in this space. With this rebuilt board, and a renewed commitment to equitable access to recreation spaces and programs, NRF is better-positioned to pursue its vision.


This story was originally published on Koya Partners’ website.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *