Photo of Paula Dang with the quote: "Growing up, I wished there were more people who looked like me. Now, I can be that representation."

Being the Change I Wish to See: Nonprofit Board Governance Through a New Lens

Paula Dang, Metropolitan Ministries Stories

I’ve always been passionate about being a voice for individuals and communities that need support. Life was challenging for me growing up as a Vietnamese and Asian American woman because I felt like I had to conform to societal and cultural norms. In middle school, I decided to lean into who I was. I honed in on my communication and professional skills and began advocating for more opportunities, causes and equity for everyone.

Over time, my purpose in life became clear: serving others. Today, I am the associate director of community donations for Metropolitan Ministries — a nonprofit that cares for the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless.

When I heard about the Nonprofit Leadership Center’s Advancing Racial Equity on Nonprofit Boards Fellowship, I knew this was the next chapter in my journey. Even though fellows are typically from the corporate sector, I saw this as a chance to make a difference beyond my day-to-day role as a nonprofit professional.

Becoming Who I Wished to See

When I applied for the Advancing Racial Equity on Nonprofit Boards Fellowship, I never anticipated how much I would learn about myself.

The fellowship is designed to help professionals of color like me learn how to be effective nonprofit board members while equipping nonprofits with training to create more diverse and equitable boards.

The fellowship consisted of six evening sessions that were extremely deep and highly engaging. There was a different set of speakers at each session who focused on various aspects of board governance. We often had assignments before or after the sessions and broke out into small groups for extended discussion.

The conversations hit me deep and made me think back on different moments in my life when I wished there was more representation — more people who looked like me. Now, I can be that representation.

A Better Understanding of Board Governance

Before this fellowship, I had no idea that serving on a board was so intensive or involved. It requires leaders to make sacrifices, steer a nonprofit and hold it accountable. Today, I have a much deeper understanding of what it means to serve on a nonprofit board and the community change you can create when you accept a board position.

I was paired with a fantastic mentor who poured into me throughout the process. I could share what I was learning and feeling with her and get her perspective on so many things. She shared a lot of wisdom about her journey, which continues to help me today.

READ NEXT: How to Be an Effective Mentor in the Workplace

The Nonprofit Leadership Center asked each fellow to develop a list of the top three nonprofits for which we’d like to serve. They scheduled meetings between those nonprofit CEOs and us to meet and discuss what it looks like to be part of their board. The process helped me immensely to understand expectations and the questions to ask as part of the process.

A Life-Changing Journey

If I could sum up my participation in the Advancing Racial Equity on Nonprofit Boards Fellowship in just a few words, I’d describe it as intentional, exciting and life-changing. Yes, life-changing.

This fellowship was not just about going through a program and remembering information; it was about living the experience. I will never forget this opportunity and what I learned, and I’m excited about what it has prepared me to take on next.

And speaking of what’s next, I’ve been in active conversations with several nonprofits about the potential of joining their boards.

Additionally, I’m actively working to advance racial equity every day in any way I can. Beyond diversity council meetings within my organization, I’m having and promoting open, even difficult, conversations and ensuring people feel comfortable discussing this work. For there to be effective change, we all must work together.

About Paula Dang

Photo of Paula Dang, associate director of community donations at Metropolitan Ministries wearing a blue top

Paula Dang is the associate director of community donations at Metropolitan Ministries, where she works with community partners and builds relationships with donors to help meet families’ needs. She is a graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in public health. She holds her Certificate in Nonprofit Financial Management and Certificate in Fund Development Fundamentals from the Nonprofit Leadership Center. She is also a graduate of NLC’s inaugural Advancing Racial Equity on Nonprofit Boards Fellowship.