Penn's Fels Institute is launching a board governance program for leaders of color - Generocity Philly

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Aug. 15, 2017 11:05 am

Penn’s Fels Institute is launching a board governance program for leaders of color

DiverseForce and Urban Philly Professional Network founder Sulaiman Rahman led its development: "We wanted to be a resource for nonprofits that say they can't find" people of color for their boards.

A board governance program advisory meeting.

(Courtesy photo)

Diversity, equity and inclusion are often touted as some of nonprofits’ primary considerations in hiring and board recruitment.

But according to Nonprofit Quarterly, 95 percent of philanthropic institutions have white leaders. People of color make up only seven percent of nonprofit executives, and 30 percent of boards have no people of color.

“There are more than 9,000 nonprofits in the Greater Philadelphia area,” said Claire Robertson-Kraft, director of executive education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government, but “there’s a disconnect of who sits on these boards and the [populations] they serve.”

That’s where Fels’ new board governance program comes in. Specifically targeted to mid- to senior-level professionals, the program will train leaders of color on the ins and outs of nonprofit board leadership over seven months.

The cohort will meet for six four-hours classes, each of which will feature lectures from local nonprofit execs on topics such as fiscal responsibility and strategic planning, with discussion about the importance of diversity throughout. The program will conclude with a board matching event.

(This effort reminds us of the Philadelphia African American Leadership Development Forum, which graduated its first cohort in June, though the forum focused less on board governance and more on general professional development, exclusively for Black nonprofit leaders.)

The program kicks off Sept. 8. Some of the confirmed speakers include:

The program was developed by Sulaiman Rahman, the founder of DiverseForce and Urban Philly Professional Network. He’s also served on eight nonprofit boards in the past 10 years, including as chair of the African American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ & DE, and most recently as the vice chair of Community College of Philadelphia Foundation’s board.

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Whenever he’s been asked but too busy to join a new board in the past, Rahman said he always knows people to recommend instead. But the board governance program is an opportunity to “scale” that network.

“We wanted to be a resource for nonprofits that say they can’t find the people” for their boards, Rahman said. Read his case for the program here.

Robertson-Kraft echoed this: “We really want to build a pipeline for more diverse leadership of boards in the city,” she said. (Robertson-Kraft also helped launch Young Involved Philadelphia’s board prep program when serving on its board and currently serves on the board of LEADERSHIP Philadelphia.)

The inaugural class will have 20 to 25 participants, and the group of 20 already confirmed (of 241 who applied) includes entrepreneurs, corporate execs and academics, Rahman said.

In future years, he hopes to recruit businesses to sponsor their employees in going through the program; with tuition at $5,000 per person, Rahman knows some qualified folks could be scared off by “sticker shock.” (BMe and The Philadelphia Foundation both provided seed funding for DiverseForce to build the program, he said.)

Nonprofits looking to gain more diverse talent for their boards can inquire about partnering with the program here.

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