Howard Dental Center's Recruitment of Board Members of Color


Howard Dental Center (HDC), a Denver-based nonprofit providing comprehensive and integrated oral health care services to adults, youth, and children living with HIV/AIDS, is working on inclusiveness. In the fall of 2010, the organization participated in trainings sponsored by The Denver Foundation's Inclusiveness Project. Those organizations that attended the series of trainings were then invited to attend a "summit" which brought together organizations seeking to enhance the inclusiveness of their board and people of color who were seeking to become involved in the nonprofit sector. A contact made at the summit by Ernie Duff, executive director of HDC, led to a mutually beneficial match with volunteer Jan Thomas, principal with Thomas Hunt LCC, a public relations business. Judy Gordon, editor of, met with Ernie and Jan to learn about how they made their match.

JG: Ernie, what were you looking for when you went to the summit?

ED: We have been starting to focus on inclusiveness at HDC and while our community already thinks we are a diverse and inclusive organization (based on results of a survey we administered), and while our staff is moving in the direction of inclusiveness, we know we need to move toward more intentional board recruitment. I saw the summit as an opportunity to take one step in that direction.

As background, we have an inclusiveness work group, headed by one of our staff members and one of our board members, and we were recently awarded a technical assistance (TA) grant from The Denver Foundation's Inclusiveness Project, which will be used to bring in a consultant to help us set a tangible course of action for moving forward on our inclusiveness, which will include training for staff and board.

JG: Did you actually meet Jan Thomas at the summit, Ernie?

ED: No, I didn't, but I saw a friend of mine there (Morris Price) who, when I told him about the inclusiveness efforts at HDC, enthusiastically responded with "I know someone who would be an excellent match for HDC." He then connected me to Jan.

JT: Morris knew that I was looking for something to do that was bigger than myself.

JG: What do you mean "bigger than yourself," Jan?

JT: I had worked for many years in the telecommunications business doing public relations. And when I asked myself the question "how does my work make the world better?," I couldn't find affirmative answers. I also, recently, witnessed my mother's end of life and it reemphasized to me that work is not the only legacy I want to have.

JG: What was it that attracted you to Jan, Ernie?

ED: It was Jan's skills in public relations that attracted me, and already, she has stepped into a role on our development committee, an extremely important function for HDC. Jan is also an African American and African Americans are a high potential client base for us.

JT: Unfortunately, while HIV/AIDS has no ethnic boundaries. The rate of HIV/AIDS in the African American community is alarmingly high.

JG: Jan, what were you looking for in that quest to find something bigger than yourself?

JT: I hadn't actually come up with a list of what I was looking for, but I was aware of HDC. Beyond ethnic considerations, it is very troubling that we still have so much HIV/AIDS in the world. I was also impressed that the board was looking at the issue of inclusiveness. I know that when people proactively see the value of inclusiveness (rather than being colorblind), they are more effective.

I do see a two-fold opportunity to serve HDC: one, as a public relations person; and two, as a person of color. There is another African American on HDC's board.

I don't enjoy being in a position to speak on behalf of the African American population as a whole. And I know that I don't have to do that here (with HDC). I can give input that will be my own. I am more comfortable in that position (than being asked to be a representative of an entire population-past, present, and future). The quality of our partnership also makes better use of my skillset.

JG: Jan, do you have any advice for nonprofits who are looking to expand the diversity of their board?

JT: The organization needs to ask themselves some good questions, like "what skills do we need on the board?," "what do we want a new person to do?," "do we want that person just for the color of his or her skin?" (If they do only want that person for the color of his or her skin, I feel they won't benefit from either that person's longevity or the full utilization of that person's skills.)

JG: Jan, do you have any advice for potential board members who are looking for a good nonprofit opportunity?

JT: I think that potential board members should interview the board as much as they are being interviewed by the board. They should find out what the board is looking for. They should ask them "what does a successful board member look like?" They should also ask the board about what they mean by diversity and inclusiveness.

JG: Ernie, do you have any advice for nonprofits who are doing inclusiveness work?

ED: On a personal level, my whole life has been about learning from and about others. I like to develop community. And to be community based, organizations need to take intentional steps to reach out. On a professional level, I know that the decision-making structure needs to be dynamic. If we stay safe and static, we won't achieve the results we could if we were dynamic. Inclusiveness helps us develop relationships with one another, which, in my mind, leads to love and respect-and those are very successful outcomes.