National Health Foundation Leads on Diversity, Equity, Justice, and Inclusion

In part one of our diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”) series, you learned about National Health Foundation’s JEDI initiatives in cultivating a diverse staff and inclusive work culture. In this post, we focus on how NHF’s Board of Directors is not only “talking the talk,” but “walking the walk” to more effectively lead on DEI.    

A 2021 report by BoardSource titled Leading with Intent: Reviewing the State of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on Nonprofit Boards, offers three core findings of the DEI practices of nonprofit boards across the country. We were thrilled to see how our ongoing JEDI strategies at the executive level continue to exceed the norms. We explore these findings in greater detail below, while comparing our Board’s DEI practices. 

Finding one: Boards may be getting slightly more diverse, but they are far from representing the communities they serve. 

Board of Directors play a critical role in helping their organizations set strategies that support diversity, equity, and inclusion. Research shows Boards that reflect the demographic makeup of the communities they serve are better able to lead on issues of DEI. The first major finding in the Leading with Intent report shows that only 38 percent of executives felt that their boards represented the communities they serve, and 66 percent of executives expressed dissatisfaction with their boards’ racial and ethnic diversity.  

Representation matters, especially when decisions about where money is distributed, which programs are delivered, and how policies are implemented, tend to have the greatest impact on communities of color and those that have experienced historical manifestations of racism and implicit bias. By comparison, National Health Foundation outperforms the norm in the diverse makeup of its board. The graphic below shows the diversity comparisons between NHF’s target communities, staff, and Board of Directors in 2020. 

NHF’s Board of Directors outperforms in diversity when compared to other nonprofit Boards surveyed in the Leading with Intent report. For example:  

  • Led by a Black Board Chair, National Health Foundation aligns with only 6% of nonprofits with Board Chairs that identify as Black or African American.  
  • As shown in the graphic above, 33.3% of NHF’s board members identify as white, compared to other Boards, where 78% identify as white. 
  • NHF’s Board is considered “racially diverse”, with 60% of our Board members identifying as people of color.  

Finding two: Boards that include people of color are more likely to have adopted diversity, equity, and inclusion practices than boards that do not include people of color. 

Diversity and representation can support a more equitable approach to decision-making. More importantly however, Boards require a larger commitment to understand “the relevance of racial inequity to the organization’s mission,” (Leading with Intent, 2021). In other words, it’s important to consider the level of depth of current DEI practices and assess the need for continuous learning that may support deeper thinking about DEI.  

Developing an equity mindset for the National Health Foundation Board is essential and is why we engaged Dr. Bryant T. Marks in our September Board of Directors retreat. As one of the leading educators on implicit bias, Dr. Marks provided an engaging and interactive training for our Board. Using research and historical data, Dr. Marks demonstrates why and how everyone experiences unconscious implicit bias. He defines implicit bias as the “differential treatment of another human being based on the group,” in which biases are often based on perceived race, gender, skin color, and age. Despite implicit bias being a very human attribute (implicit bias is the result of simply having a brain), it’s the responsibility of leaders and practitioners to understand how these biases can manifest in harmful decision-making towards a group of people.  

NHF’s Board of Directors at a September retreat featured with Dr. Bryant Marks.
Dr. Bryant Marks provides his implicit bias training for NHF’s Board of Directors.

“As Chairperson of National Health Foundation’s Board of Directors, I have spent many hours contemplating the importance of implementing a strong Diversity, Equity and Inclusion platform along with NHF’s Board and the leadership team,” said Jeffrey Thompson, NHF’s Board Chair. “It is important that we continually strive to understand the potential impact of DEI as a whole on our ecosystem while also leveraging training tools, like implicit bias training, in our decision-making; from hiring and retention, to funding and programming at the community-level.”

The training laid the foundation for understanding how decisions can perpetuate or dismantle systems that contribute to large-scale inequities. Additionally, it was important that our Board learn whether decisions they make are truly centering the voices of people and communities that will be most impacted.

Jeffrey Thompson continued, “Specifically, Dr. Mark’s “Implicit Bias“ training was an eye-opening and informative experience that helped our teams better understand our own blind spots, with the objective of enabling us to lead more effectively, while promoting these best practices internally for our staff, our key stakeholders and better impacting the communities we serve.”

In learning about and overcoming our own implicit biases, we can better assess how to work in genuine partnership with the communities we serve.  

Finding three: Board recruitment practices are not aligned with diversity goals. 

The third finding encourages nonprofit Boards to think about who sits at the leadership table around them. According to the Leading with Intent report, “demographic diversity is a high priority in recruitment for only a quarter of boards (26%); thirty percent of boards reported it is “low” or “not a priority.”   

At NHF, it’s important that we guide our Board in equitable recruitment practices, while ensuring new members are invested in the JEDI-led culture of the organization. For example, we use an intensive matrix to assess the demographics, experience, skills, and background when recruiting new Board members. In addition, we’ve implemented a ‘buddy program’ that pairs new members with our more seasoned Board members to help engrain new members into our culture as they learn the ropes. We view both of these strategies as actionable recruitment practices that prioritize diversity on our Board and support overarching goals to further a culture of inclusion.  


Operating at the highest level of organizational governance, it is essential that our Board reflect the communities that we serve and understand the historical and environmental complexities at play. It is also crucial to move beyond checkbox diversity, and our Board of Directors continues to put in the effort as demonstrated by the implementation of DEI recruitment practices, the adoption of an ally statement and inclusive meeting norms, and the creation of learning spaces that challenge assumptions and push members to overcome biases. We acknowledge that our work of JEDI is a journey and we look forward to continuing to strengthen our JEDI culture and practices.