Getting on board with inclusion: How we included our board in our commitment to DEI
The importance of a nonprofit’s board to its health and even survival cannot be overstated. Boards are foundational for developing the long-term vision of organizations, they are critical for fundraising and represent the values of an organization.
It’s ironic, and it’s unfortunate: At many nonprofits, boards are excluded from the organization’s efforts around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
This can happen for several reasons. The DEI training may be limited to staff, for example, or focus on the programmatic aspects.
Yet the importance of a nonprofit’s board to its health and even survival cannot be overstated. Boards are foundational for developing the long-term vision of organizations, they are critical for fundraising and represent the values of an organization.
That’s why, during this year’s Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month (JDAIM), we at Cincinnati Hillel are acting to bring our board, well … on board — with DEI.
The process started at the beginning of the year at our board retreat, where we identified five core values, including a commitment to full inclusion in our community. For our community, DEI includes disability inclusion, the focus of this month, as well racial, economic and gender inclusion. While the board fully supported the value, through our conversations together, we discovered many of our board members did not have the language to discuss DEI. We were unclear how to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion into the work of the board.
We were already working to make adjustments to reflect that value in much of our programming – such as including pronouns in email signatures, collaborating with different campus offices and organizations, and using captions on all virtual meetings to improve accessibility – but we realized we needed support in including our board to make our commitment fully holistic.
At that point, we turned to the professionals at Hillel International. With their help, we developed and shared specific DEI training for our board members, so that they could learn more about what it means and how they could be a part of implementing this value as board members. For example, the training helped us realize that as we discussed the future of our building, we needed to consider how to make it more wheelchair-accessible.
Another example: We can shift some of our work to even better support the needs of our students by recognizing how each student – and every person – brings a variety of identities to the table. They are not just Jewish, or just someone on the autism spectrum, or just someone who identifies as queer. We all bring multiple identities into a room, and to have to check any one of those at the door is really challenging. Through the process of reflecting on their own identities, the board is recognizing the struggle many students face every day.
Each board meeting now starts with a short lesson and conversation on an aspect of DEI. At a recent board meeting, we reflected on the fact that not every disability is visible, and that as a result we need to shift our language and actions to be more inclusive of disabled individuals — saying “rise in body or spirit” instead of “please stand”, for example.
As our board chair, Dr. Scott Joseph, shared about the process, “Our board has fully endorsed the DEI training, has become more aware of micro aggressions and recognizes the importance for all students to feel welcome and included. Our mission is to enrich the lives of Jewish students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world. It is especially meaningful and gratifying to provide support for Hillel to ensure all students can lead fulfilling Jewish lives.”
Rachel Kaplan is the executive director of Cincinnati Hillel.