Why Our Foundation Prioritizes Trustee Diversity - Exponent Philanthropy
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Why Our Foundation Prioritizes Trustee Diversity

The Valentine Foundation actively recruits diverse trustees to serve on its board, make grants, and oversee all aspects of the foundation’s mission. When Phoebe Valentine’s father died in 1974, she inherited a fortune. In 1985 part of her inheritance was reborn as the Valentine Foundation, an organization whose mission is the empowerment of women and girls. Over the past 35 years, the foundation has had White, Black and Brown trustees of varied sexual orientations, economic backgrounds, and first languages. Their insights, passions and perspectives allow us to evolve and grow, and hopefully direct our resources and grants in the best way possible.

The Original Trustees

Phoebe selected five women to be the first trustees, only one of whom had philanthropic experience. She selected two longtime friends along with her lawyer, bible study teacher and financial advisor. All were skilled White women, and she appointed them for life. Phoebe wanted to share the joy and responsibility of being a philanthropist with women she admired, and she wanted their company on her personal philanthropic journey.

It did not take long before the trustees decided that a life term was too long. Thus, they limited terms to three years, renewable once. As the original trustees left, and new ones joined the board, the foundation broadened its search from friends and acquaintances to intentionally seeking out more diverse women. The original trustees came to understand that their perspectives as all White women were too uniform. They realized the value in hearing from people with different perspectives and lived experiences.

Prioritizing Trustee Diversity

Now, the foundation nominates and interviews trustees with an intentional preference for people of color and those living in the communities that our grantee organizations serve. This approach is valuable because the people making decisions about the foundation are also the people closest to the issues. This influences how the foundation runs, its grantmaking process, and the grants it makes to better support the community.

A Spanish speaking trustee can better communicate and understand programs and organizations run by and serving Spanish speaking people. This is not just from a language perspective, but also from the lived experience of having English as a second language or being an immigrant.

Diverse trustees can better understand the potential of a program, and more importantly, its unintended consequences. For example, the foundation was looking into a potential mission aligned investment in a community trust. One of our trustees lived in the affected neighborhood and was close to community organizations that served drug users and sex workers in the area. She was concerned about gentrification and forcing those populations to another poorer part of the city.

This trustee met with the community trust’s planners to talk about protecting these vulnerable populations, while still improving affordable housing, and helping small business owners in the community. Adding this layer of thinking to the community trusts’ planning would not have happened if our board were still all White suburban women. This dialogue makes our potential investment and the community more inclusive and stronger.

Deeper Ties to Community Leaders

Another of our trustees introduced us to a grantee who works with women who were recently incarcerated. The program’s founder was in prison at one time, and she knows the pitfalls and hardships of the journey home. Our trustee knew the founder and the effectiveness of the program. But the foundation might never have known about them were it not for the direct connection to one of our trustees.

Diverse trustees have better access to and relationships with diverse community leaders who know how to best address pressing issues. When the Valentine Foundation supports organizations run by community leaders, they’re more effective than programs designed by those on the outside who may not fully understand the problems or solutions.

Read More About the Valentine Foundation’s Trustees »

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About the Author

Alexandra Frazier has served as executive director of the Valentine Foundation for over 30 years.

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