The lack of Latinos in government, corporations and media has been widely documented and reported. Now a new national study adds nonprofits to the list, showing that inclusion remains elusive in this sector even in Los Angeles — including the Valley — despite its massive Latino population.

The survey “Boards Count!” shows that Latinos represent nearly 20 percent of the US population, but they account for just about 11 percent of members of the nation’s nonprofit boards of directors. That’s a roughly 50 percent disparity that, in more relatable numbers, means that Latinos make up one in five people in the country but only one in 10 nonprofit directors. And of 1,684 organizations sampled nationwide in the study, a third had no Latino members at all. The study was commissioned by Latino LEAD, an advocacy organization for inclusion and diversity.

The results are even more discouraging for the LA area, which has one of the highest concentrations of Latinos in the nation. Here, Latinos represent almost half of the population. Yet, they make up little more than 12 percent of nonprofit directors, according to Geoff Green, a Latino LEAD board member who discussed the “Boards Count!” survey at a recent briefing in downtown LA. The meeting highlighted the results for the local region, encompassing Los Angeles, Long Beach and Anaheim and including 202 nonprofits. Also, more than one-third — 36 percent — of the organizations had no Latino directors.

Nonprofits offer important programs and services to communities in health, education, job training, foster care, legal aid, disability, arts and culture, according to Latino LEAD Executive Director Patrick Salazar. The organizations’ directors should also reflect the people they serve and financially support or fund their programs, which often include taxpayers.

The nonprofit governing boards make critical decisions in high-level strategies, oversight and accountability. “Those people hire the executive directors of nonprofits,” states Salazar.

“Inclusion is really a question of equity and stewardship,” says Salazar. “That’s a nonprofit principle that’s been around for decades, that you should look like the people giving you money.” And contrary to popular belief, adds Salazar, corporations are not the main funders of the nonprofit sector as their donations only account for 5 percent of the organizations’ budgets. He says that another 10 percent comes from private foundations. Who’s the main funding source? “Taxpayers through all levels of government,” states Salazar.

California nonprofits collect millions of dollars in taxpayer money for their work through grants and program fees to offer specific services on behalf of the government. It is estimated that public sector grants make up to 30 percent of all the state’s nonprofit revenue, according to Latino LEAD. The advocacy organization said that in 2019, the federal government paid nonprofits $8.7 billion through California state and local governments. Billions more were given by the state and local municipalities themselves.

Nonprofits also create jobs. Latino LEAD says that in 2019 more than 27,000 organizations in the Golden State had a combined workforce of 1.2 million people, employing more than finance and insurance, wholesale trade or construction.

For his part, Thomas Saenz of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund says the role and impact of nonprofits in communities, especially Latino, cannot be underestimated, adding that “no one can deny that they are as important as the corporate sector, and in many ways, the government sector, but all three together have so much influence over changing the communities we live [in] for better or, in some cases obviously, worse.” He made the statement at the public briefing in Los Angeles.

Most LA-area nonprofits in the study are not headquartered in the San Fernando Valley but at least two are locally based here. Food Forward of North Hollywood, which fights hunger in 12 California counties, shows a 12-member board with only two Latinos. Discovery Cube Los Angeles, an educational museum in Sylmar, lists only 3 Latinos on its 15-member board.

Other regional Valley-serving nonprofits included in the study are Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles with only three Latinos out of 25 directors; Goodwill Southern California, one out of 18; and YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, four out of 61. Another organization is Chrysalis, which helps people find employment in six locations that includes one in Pacoima. Chrysalis stands out for having no Latinos among its 22 directors.

The noticeable absence of Valley-based nonprofits in “Boards Count!” is a result of the criteria used by Latino LEAD’s researchers. Salazar said that most surveyed organizations have revenues of $750,000 to $1 million, and are located in 19 metropolitan areas with at least half a million residents with at least 20 percent Latino population. “There aren’t that many headquartered in the San Fernando Valley but most have services there,” notes Salazar. He also noted that most nonprofit hospitals and university foundations were excluded because, otherwise, their abundance would dominate the survey and skew results. But Latino LEAD is considering a study of those in the future.

Not included in the survey is Hope the Mission, a North Hills-based organization that serves the homeless with over a dozen shelters in the Valley and revenues of more than $15 million. Its board of directors has 15 members, including one Latino. President Rowan Vansleve said that inclusion and diversity are issues that must not be avoided, even when an organization falls short. “The Latino community is an incredible part of Los Angeles but Latinos have been historically marginalized in our nation to the detriment of our cities,” he says, adding, “at Hope the Mission, we are striving to do more. Diversity is a strength for us.” He noted people of different ethnicities and faiths on the current board and that two more Latinos are expected to join as directors in the next weeks. “We are really excited.” 

Recruitment of board members is a hard task because of the commitment their posts require like time, helping raise thousands of dollars in funds and sharing their contact networks, according to Mission the Hope’s Vansleve.

“The members of a nonprofit board of directors all are volunteers by California law,” says Salazar of Latino LEAD.

For the nonprofit Northeast Valley Health Corporation, which was not included in the survey, board diversity “is not a difficult task,” says Jose Plaza, communications director. Eight of its 14 directors are Latinos. “We are intentional, requiring that our board be made up mainly of consumers and community leaders,” says Plaza with pride. With annual revenues of $120 million and a workforce of 1000 employees, NEVHC operates 16 health centers in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys offering medical, dental and behavioral healthcare services. Locations include Canoga Park, North Hollywood, Pacoima, San Fernando, Sun Valley and Van Nuys.

If Latinos want change in governing boards, they must get involved, says Ulisses Sanchez, a communications consultant that volunteers as vice chair of the Board of Directors for Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater LA. “It’s important that Latinos are at the table [to help] manage and oversee how nonprofits that service the Latino community fulfill their commitments to those who they serve.” That also includes participating in fund development efforts to learn about how nonprofits operate in order to “access resources as needed to make a difference on the various issues that impact our families.”