Most Local Nonprofit Boards are Less Diverse Than Our Community. Here’s How United Way of Central Ohio is Addressing the Issue.

Most boards in Central Ohio do not reflect the communities they serve. In a guest column, Kourtni Hatton, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer and VP, Community Engagement, at United Way of Central Ohio shares how the organization is working to improve board diversity in our community.

In 2019, United Way of Central Ohio published a report comparing the diversity of local nonprofit boards to Franklin County demographics. While eye opening to some, the survey results highlighted in the report shed light on what marginalized groups already knew to be true based on our day-to-day lived experiences. Most local nonprofit boards are less diverse than Franklin County and do not effectively reflect the communities and people they serve.

At the time of the report, for example, less than 65% of Franklin County’s population was white. Yet of those surveyed, over 80% of Central Ohio board members were white. Similarly, an overwhelming 92% of local nonprofit board members identified as heterosexual. Significant disparities were found among other demographics such as age and income.

What these gaps tell us is that nonprofit board members — the decision-makers — do not look like or have similar lived experiences as the people who the decisions are being made for. In a time when it appears that diversity, equity, and inclusion is at the forefront, I am disappointed that, in a community as diverse (and growing even more so) as Central Ohio, our local nonprofit boards have yet to achieve greater diversity.

However, I am encouraged by the work we are doing at United Way alongside our partners to help move the needle on board diversity. In 2020, we implemented a requirement that our 91 funded partners submit board diversity plans as part of their grant application and commit to working toward having a diverse board reflective of Franklin County demographics (or better) by 2025.

In addition, over 30 years ago, leadership at United Way took a bold, necessary step and launched Project Diversity, a board development program specifically designed for people of color. Project Diversity was constructed to provide leaders of color with greater access to the opportunities and tools to serve on a nonprofit board or committee in our community. In 2008, United Way of Central Ohio took another major step and expanded our board development program. We developed a similar but separate program, Pride Leadership, designed for members of the LGBTQ+ community, becoming the first United Way in the country to create a LGBTQ+ program.

In 2018, the two programs merged to become Project Diversity Pride Leadership (PDPL). Combining the programs allowed us to cultivate a greater level of inclusion and equity among participants, as well as create space for the intersectionality between race/ethnicity and sexual orientation and gender identity.

To me, PDPL has been the most influential approach our United Way has taken to impact board diversity thus far. The program offers interactive workshops for diverse leaders to enhance key board leadership skills in areas such as fiscal management, fundraising, strategic planning, and more. Beyond board service, the program also promotes career and leadership development and serves as a springboard to community engagement and building a stronger diverse network. Collectively, Project Diversity Pride Leadership has successfully graduated over 700 diverse leaders, many of whom have served on local nonprofit boards.

To have a greater impact in this effort, corporate and community partners must work together. Grange Insurance is a great example of a corporate partner that has been a longtime supporter of United Way and of Project Diversity Pride Leadership. Grange has sponsored the program for more than two decades, and each year Grange commits to identifying associates from the company to apply and participate in the program.

As we prepare to welcome another cohort for Project Diversity Pride Leadership, the goal is to have more corporate and community partners join us in the effort to increase board diversity in Central Ohio. I urge you to consider how your company can most effectively support this effort and identify colleagues in your network you would recommend applying to Project Diversity Pride Leadership.  

There are still gaps today in board diversity. We recognize that the issue of board diversity is not unique to Columbus and not all boards lack diversity. However, we also know that as our community becomes increasingly diverse it is essential that policies, practices, and nonprofit leadership reflect and represent a community that includes individuals with different backgrounds, perspectives, and approaches.

*If you are interested in learning more or if there is someone you would like to refer to the program, email Reyna Hughes at with the candidate’s name and email address. 

Article by: Kourtni M. Hatton, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer/VP, Community Engagement, United Way of Central Ohio

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