The pandemic and resulting unstable economy have laid bare the inequities in our healthcare system and our society. Senseless killings and growing rage against social injustice have amplified the inequities and desire for real change. Among the many actions we can take to drive change in the philanthropic sector, one can accelerate change – having diverse constituents at our board and council tables.

Different genders, races, ethnicities, and identities at the table is not just a “nice to have.” It is foundational to gain needed input for smarter decisions as well as to increase the bottom line. A 2016 MSCI report notes that having three women on a board increases earnings per share by 37% across five years. The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy 2018 report, “Impact of Diversity,” finds that boards with a greater percentage of women have stronger board engagement, fundraising, and advocacy.

The need for diversity on our councils and boards is even more timely now. None of us have navigated all at once a virus pandemic, economic meltdown, and massive protests in our streets calling for social justice. We need to be inclusive during chaotic times to make our best decisions. We need the richness of diverse experiences, intellectual capital, and multiple perspectives to step up in ways we have not done before and to create solutions that are not yet visible. None of us can make change alone and we certainly cannot use previous practices to create the systemic changes we now seek. We will need different conversations with a wider range of people, new ways of leading, and a re-imagination of our philanthropic future.

Let us leverage this unparalleled moment, not only to re-envision our philanthropic future, but also to act on creating that future. It is on us to create diverse women’s philanthropy councils. Now. Women of color are the most underrepresented of all groups on boards. Women of color and women of different generations have voices and perspectives to add regarding how they give and want to be engaged. By including men on our councils, they can leverage their platforms and share their power, making them valuable contributors and allies to grow women’s philanthropy. Wider diversity will help our councils make better decisions and grow philanthropy.

I know many women’s philanthropy groups are taking diversity very seriously, and I also know that it takes attention, intention, asking stakeholders for help, and adapting your model when needed, to be successful.


Gather facts from your organization’s data about representation on your councils and boards, review marketing visuals, and talk to stakeholders to learn how your current level of diversity feels to those who might consider joining your council. If you have an Inclusion Council on campus, engage with them, as they are already well versed on the facts about diversity, equity and inclusion for your organization. Facts break down myths and help you set intentional actions to make change.

  • The Board leadership of the Women & Philanthropy at UCLA program has a strong commitment to diversity and members are working to closing the gap between their ideals and lived reality. One example is by having two honorary Young Alumni Representative positions on their Board to off-set the giving threshold and offer a diverse generational perspective. They’ve learned that creating honorary positions can provide additional opportunities to add more diverse viewpoints and life experiences. Melissa Effron Hayek, director of the program, shared that they are conscientious about the images used in their materials and focus on making them a mix of individuals. They also are attentive to their program topics and the make-up of panels so that they are as representative as possible and relevant to a wide scope of women who may be interested in becoming more involved with the University and possibly a network of women, or even serve on the Women & Philanthropy Board.

Set clear goals to grow the number of diverse leaders on your women’s philanthropy council and/or on councils and boards across campus.

  • NC State University has just launched its Wolfpack Women in Philanthropy Initiative. Christina Walker shared that It has reviewed the data and found that women comprised 30% of leadership boards on campus. The Wolfpack leaders have set a goal to increase diverse representation on leadership boards to 50% and also will look for a broader definition of diversity beyond just women versus men.
Ask your stakeholders for help:

Maximize the power of your council’s network. First, have diverse representation on your nominating committee so that a broad range of networks can be mined for new voices. In addition, all council members can help identify individuals and open doors once they know the facts and the intention. In fact, there is nothing more powerful than a peer “tapping” another peer, sharing their own story and inviting them to join.

  • Duke University’s Women’s Impact Network (WIN) works to increase the number of women serving on the university’s volunteer leadership boards and to accelerate women’s philanthropy. Members of the WIN Leadership Council, an alumnae volunteer group that includes several current Trustees, champion WIN’s commitment to diversity in their areas of influence, advising nominating committees and deans on strengthening and diversifying their respective boards. The Leadership Council currently includes the past president of the Duke Black Alumni affinity group, who has helped inform and guide Council conversations about increasing board diversity across the university.
Adapt your model when needed:

We need to be flexible to meet previously unarticulated goals or improve when we see consequence that don’t meet our values.

  • The executive committee of the women’s philanthropy group at William & Mary, the Society of 1918, recognized that very few of the over 400 members were women of color and that the average age of members was 65. To address their under-representation they offered a lower giving rate to their youngest graduates and offered membership scholarships to 12 graduating students each year.  The number of members who are women of color has grown from 5 to 25 in two just years and the average age has dropped by ten years.  It is these younger and diverse members who will take on the mantle of leadership going forward.

The growth across our country of visible and powerful women’s philanthropy is beginning to help our sector understand what a new version of successful philanthropy looks like. Let’s accelerate this movement by intentionally growing the diversity on our councils to ensure our sector embraces inclusive perspectives and giving by all.

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