How to Seek, Find, and Engage Native American Staff and Board Members

How to Seek, Find, and Engage Native American Staff and Board Members

by Kevin Walker

NPQ, in partnership with the First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), has published a series of Native American leaders who highlight the practices of community building in Indian Country this fall. This essay, also produced in partnership with the First Nations Development Institute, is the second of three articles that we are publishing from the perspective of philanthropy.

Additional related articles can be found at this First Nations webpage. 

How can a philanthropy be a good partner in Indian Country? A few key principles to keep in mind: 1) look for board and staff members with lived experience in the communities you wish to serve, 2) foster an environment where every voice is heard and respected, and 3) position yourself as a learner rather than an expert.

In spring 2019, I was struck by what Hadestown director Rachel Chavkin had to say about the lack of diversity on Broadway. In her Tony Award acceptance speech, Chavkin said, “I wish I wasn’t the only woman directing a musical on Broadway this season. There are so many women who are ready to go. There are so many artists of color who are ready to go. This is not a pipeline issue. It is a failure of imagination by a field whose job is to imagine the way the world could be. So, let’s do it.”

Wow, I thought. If she ever gives up on theater, she should come to work in philanthropy, where her words ring every bit as true as on Broadway.

Chavkin’s speech grabbed me because I’d been struggling to rise to a challenge from Nonprofit Quarterly and First Nations Development Institute (First Nations). They asked me to illuminate how and why the Northwest Area Foundation has established a track record of recruiting and retaining Native American members of our staff and board. Native representation in philanthropy at the program officer, CEO, or board member level is extremely slight. For example, relatively recent assessments by both First Nations Development Institute and the Council on Foundations puts the number of Native program officers or foundation executives at less than 40 nationwide.