Recognizing that the lack of people of color serving on nonprofit boards is a local and national dilemma—16% of board members nationally are people of color, although they represent 39% of the country's population, numbers that haven't budged since 1994—we decided to do something about it.

Community InRoads (CIR), a nonprofit partner to nonprofits serving the Lawrence and Haverhill area since 2006, provides pro-bono, professional expertise to help organizations strengthen the local community. In 2012, executive director Joan Kulash proposed a partnership with the local YWCA and a steering committee of local Latinos and nonprofit leaders to create what became known as the Cultural Inclusion Program for Nonprofit Boards.

As Kulash recalls, “We saw a disconnect between the demographics of the communities we serve and the composition of local nonprofit boards.” About 74% of the population of Lawrence, and 21% of Haverhill, are Hispanic or Latino, but the overwhelming majority of the city’s nonprofit board members were white and had minimal ties to the city.

“An honest assessment led us to conclude that these facts could not be ignored," Kulash added. "As an organization, we asked ourselves: Can local nonprofits authentically address local needs if the people who live in the community are not represented on the boards of the very organizations designed to provide services to them? CIR’s answer to this question was a simple, unanimous 'no'."

The Cultural Inclusion Program aims to empower and contribute to the capacity and gifts of the women, men, and youth living, working, and studying in the community by fostering a sustainable network of effective nonprofits to support social justice and equality.

The program provides training in the nuts and bolts of board service, as well as facilitates dialogue on creating inclusive board environments. It also creates opportunities for recruits to learn more about the possibilities for board service and requirements should they wish to serve.

Each year, CIR recruits and trains Latino and Latina professionals, who meet monthly over eight months, joined by representatives from a number of community nonprofits. During the first two sessions, participants get to know each other, explore leadership and belonging, and share stories. The following sessions include expert training on board governance, fundraising, and financial/legal oversight.

Since the first training session was held in 2013, 95 recruits have graduated, of whom 75 have joined 22 boards among the 25 local nonprofits that have participated, while others have accepted invitations to boards not participating in the project.

Here's how it works:

Participant Recruitment: Minority candidates are interviewed and, if appropriate, invited to apply to the program. Each candidate must have the professional skills needed by a nonprofit, be fluent in English, and live, work, or have roots in the community.

Board Training: Recruits and participating nonprofit board representatives are required to attend all eight, 3-hour training sessions. Facilitated dialogue on inclusive board environments is an essential component of the program.

After completing the program, recruits and board representatives meet in a speed-dating format that we call The Boardwalk, which is held at the El Taller, a restaurant in Lawrence. The event is festive, offering each recruit an opportunity to meet with representatives of each of the nonprofits participating in the project to learn more about their mission, board expectations, etc.

Subsequently, the executive director of CIR meets with each recruit to learn which nonprofits might be of interest. Matches must be mutual, and CIR staff provide coaching, meetings, and tours, and help broker matches, a process that can take up to five months.

With current funding from the Cummings Foundation, CIR was able to hire a retention specialist to help with follow-up and evaluation, meeting with all recruits and providing mentors if needed. Northern Essex Community College has been an important partner in the inclusion program, providing well-equipped meeting space at no charge and additional interested participants.

CIR and, more importantly, nonprofits and people in Lawrence and Haverhill are heartened by these initial steps. By strengthening the organizational infrastructure of local nonprofits, we're helping to unlock the tremendous potential of the cities’ residents, helping them to be valuable, contributing members of their communities.

Judith Kamber, past board chair of Community InRoads, continues as an advisor to the organization. Email to her at