The Cultural Inclusion Project in Lawrence, Massachusetts aims to train Latino professionals and pair them with nonprofits that are trying to build boards that better represent the community.
Associations have heard time and again about the importance of embracing diversity and inclusion, especially in their governing bodies. Yet, many continue to struggle to truly represent their communities.
A little help may be on the way from the Cultural Inclusion Project, a pilot program being tested by two nonprofits—Jericho Road Lawrence and the YWCA of Greater Lawrence—in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
Nearly three-quarters of the population of Lawrence identifies as Hispanic or Latino, according to the most recent U.S. census data, but you wouldn’t know that if you looked at the boards of the city’s nonprofits.
“Boards are predominantly white, and many have members who are not even from Lawrence,” said Clare Gunther, director of development at the YWCA of Greater Lawrence. “Many of the Latinos in the community had some pretty unsettling stories to tell about how they had actually served on boards but felt tokenized, and they really weren’t clear on what their job was once they got there or what skills the board perceived that they brought to the table.”
The groups hope to change that. The Cultural Inclusion Project is in the second year of a two-year pilot phase. Through pro bono, nuts-and-bolts training delivered by local experts, Latino professionals are introduced to the basics of volunteer leadership—everything from nonprofit law to fundraising basics to corporate governance. Local nonprofits willing to make the commitment to D&I join the conversation as well, which helps to promote cultural competence and inclusivity, said Gunther.
At the end of the training, the “recruits” are paired with a nonprofit and are given the opportunity to serve on the board.
“There’s a rich talent pool of business professional Latinos in the community that would really benefit these nonprofits,” said Joan Kulash, executive director at Jericho Roads Lawrence. “We realized that we just needed to open up the dialogue among the existing nonprofit board members and Latinos about what it means to be a welcoming board, a welcoming body, and also, what kind of issues arise based on our background and culture, and how that impacts how we communicate and how we work together.”
In the first year, the program recruited 10 young Latino professionals, trained them, and placed them on nonprofit boards. This year, the program expanded to 14 recruits and six nonprofit partners. At the completion of the pilot run, the groups intend to formalize and share the process.
“We’ve really worked to design this so that it’s replicable in other communities,” said Gunther. “They can tailor it to meet their specific needs for the population that they’re trying to engage. Every community is different. The whole idea is that this will be portable.”
YWCA and Jericho Road Lawrence have already been asked to demonstrate the project for a group of nonprofits in Boston and Lowell, Massachusetts.