Brian Butler was a board member for several nonprofits when he started receiving two to three requests a week from organizations suddenly looking to diversify their boards after George Floyd’s murder in 2020.
“Brian, will you serve on my board?”
“Brian, will you introduce me to someone of color to serve on my board?”
It was overwhelming. But it was also the spark that ignited a transformative idea to bring much-needed change to the Tampa Bay community and beyond.
A Perfect Storm Inspires Action
Brian Butler is president and CEO of Vistra Communications, a native Floridian and an engaged leader in the Tampa Bay community. He and his wife Maureen have been part of the Nonprofit Leadership Center for years, serving as trainers, mentors and advisors and volunteering their services to strengthen the nonprofit sector.
After the deluge of requests to serve on nonprofit boards, Brian’s good friend, Ernest Hooper, former Tampa Bay Times reporter and columnist and vice president of communications for United Way Suncoast, reached out to him. He, too, had received a flood of invitations to serve on more boards.
Brian and Ernest were tired of people asking for lists of Black friends for board service. Research from BoardSource shows 1 in 4 nonprofit boards lack any members of color, and only 38% of nonprofit executives say their boards reflect the communities they serve. Brian and Ernest committed to doing something to create a pipeline of minority talent in Tampa Bay and to prevent great local talent from being overlooked.
They met with their friend, Bill Goede, Bank of America Tampa Bay market president. Together, the three of them talked about possibilities to solve this challenge in our community.
That’s when Brian reached out to Emily Benham, CEO of the Nonprofit Leadership Center, to gauge our interest in developing a program to prepare and place more professionals to serve on nonprofit boards and equip nonprofit organizations with knowledge and skills to advance their commitment to DEI.
Lasting Change Starts with the First Step
After six months of research, planning, funder outreach and preparation, the Nonprofit Leadership Center’s Advancing Racial Equity on Nonprofit Boards Fellowship was born. In October 2021, 22 fellows graduated from NLC’s inaugural program and now have the tools to be effective board members. Twenty of those graduates are currently serving on nonprofit boards or actively engaged in the board discovery process.
Fellows reported a 40% increase in their knowledge and skills after completing the program.
National board governance expert Vernetta Walker says NLC’s Advancing Racial Equity on Nonprofit Boards Fellowship is precisely what the nonprofit sector needs and a unique model in the nation with its training for both professionals of color and nonprofit organizations as well as its mentoring and mutual accountability components.
“The Nonprofit Leadership Center is identifying and preparing exceptionally diverse leaders for nonprofit board service and addressing the often-cited excuse that it is difficult to find qualified, diverse leaders. No more excuses. This program is leveling the playing field.”
Vernetta Walker, national board governance expert
It Only Takes a Spark to Ignite a Lightning Bolt of Change
Brian’s mother was at the March on Washington on August 28, 1963. She believed that every child should have access to good books and a quality education.
On March 19, 2022, Brian was honored as a Lightning Community Hero at the Tampa Bay Lightning home game against the New York Rangers, alongside the Nonprofit Leadership Center, for their collective work to create the Advancing Racial Equity on Nonprofit Boards program. Brian’s mother passed down a spark, and that fire continues to burn bright as he champions this program and community to make a lasting difference.
Watch the video played in the arena when Brian received the Lightning Community Hero award:
In 2011, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and his wife, Penny, launched the Lightning Community Hero program, a collaboration of the Vinik Family Foundation and the Lightning Foundation to celebrate deserving Heroes and distribute funding to nonprofits throughout the Tampa Bay community. At each of the Lightning’s regular season and playoff home games, a local Hero is honored, and a nonprofit of their choice receives a $50,000 grant.
As part of this prestigious recognition, the Nonprofit Leadership Center received a $50,000 grant to:
- Grow the Advancing Racial Equity on Nonprofit Boards program by adding two annual fellowship classes to educate, train and prepare 50-75 new racially and ethnically diverse board members each year.
- Successfully match all fellows with mentors — professionals of color who serve as engaged and effective board members today.
- Increase the board governance knowledge and skills of participating fellows by a minimum of 40%, as measured by pre-and post-evaluations.
- Achieve 90% of fellows joining nonprofit boards or actively seeking board service within six months of graduation.
- Add scholarships for both professionals of color and nonprofits needing financial support to enable their participation.
We estimate that thousands of individuals in the Tampa Bay community will benefit indirectly from this program through increased diversity and community representation on many nonprofit boards.
And it’s all because Brian not only believed there had to be a better way; he chose to do something about it.