Power Your Board, Power Your World

By Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer

Ted runs a large cultural organization in the center of a city that is trying to reinvent itself from a history of manufacturing, with a population of many small and separate communities that differ in race, economic levels, age and other characteristics.

Like many other leaders of institutions and businesses who find themselves in a rapidly changing world, Ted knows that the only way to thrive in the future is to be relevant to the people his organization serves:

“I have been reaching out to a well-respected local leader from a large immigrant community we want to get into for over a year, and I’m getting nowhere,” he said. “We even sent the symphony into their schools to do free concerts. They don’t really know who we are, what resources we have for them, or attend any of our events. How can I build a diverse board when I can’t even build a relationship?”

We need to know how to be needed and valued in a rapidly changing society. And we need strong, diverse boards — that means more women, more people of color, with a range in age, religion, thought, etc. — to successfully steer us into the future of our existence where businesses and nonprofits compete on a global scale.

• Why is this so important? A board of a business or nonprofit that is diverse and representative of the people it impacts and serves can transform the way it works, the way it is perceived and the way it changes the world. The result is a successful network of valued and meaningful relationships that engages all involved.

• What does a strong & effective board look like? You want board members who share the passion for your goals and mission and are diverse in ways that reflect the people you are impacting.

Gender, race, religion, age and thought are a few common kinds of diversity people look to have on their boards. But there are many others that are more subtle and specific to particular groups and without truly spending the time to understand the people in cultures different from your own, you may spend more time removing your foot from your mouth.

• Is the answer to building a strong, effective board a magical new strategy designed for millennials, an etiquette guide for interacting with diverse cultures and peoples, perhaps a street team of activist/organizers armed with gifts and resources? The answer is no.

If we understand that communities may have changed, but humans have not, we can begin to appreciate the power, the effectiveness – and the indisputable ROI – of simply knowing that how people buy in always changes. Why people buy in never does.

• Why outreach doesn’t work. Whenever someone says, “I’m doing outreach,” I see a person standing on a little planet hovering above me sticking a hand out of their orbit and grasping for something.

What do you think it feels like to be “outreached to”? For me, it puts me in the position of the outsider. Someone not in the center. The other. The to-be-colonized. And the person outreaching looks a lot like a Trojan Horse, like someone offering a gift but who really wants something.

I also get the message that I am seen as someone to be helped. Someone without the ability to help myself, or others. This is not a good way to start a relationship.

• Buy in that builds trust. Outreach is an action that reinforces the sense of otherness. Someone is inside, in the center of their universe, reaching out to someone outside, out of the mainstream.

• Outreach does not move people equally. Opportunities are places that encourage togetherness. When people on both sides of a table discover they have concerns or goals in common, there will be a willingness to work together. Shared vulnerabilities are powerful equalizers.

Outreach does not move people, opportunities do.

• A mindset for building a pipeline of diverse leadership. Empathy is the DNA of this universal structure for building relationships with the people you want to include on your boards. Rather than simply reach for what is familiar and comfortable, like sending a symphony out into schools (did those schools even ask for that?), boards will find greater success in building opportunities for people to co-create meaningful change that can grow strong pipelines of diverse leadership.


Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with grant-writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as a veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her free Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view at hoongyee.com.

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