Member Spotlight: NAMI Yakima – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on a Nonprofit Board

Julia Hunter
January 16, 2018

Why work for greater diversity, equity, and inclusion on a nonprofit board? What are the benefits? NAMI Yakima can answer that. With their transformed board, community relationship improved, leadership stabilized, and programming became more strategic.

Mary Stephenson, President of NAMI Yakima’s board, tells the story. After a losing their paid staff and experiencing a time of relative instability, NAMI Yakima decided to firmly define themselves as mission focused. Mary, new to the board herself, attended Washington Nonprofits’ legal, finance, and board leadership webinars to get the organization to a healthy place. With help from regular volunteers, NAMI Yakima stabilized their finances and gave attention to strengthening their board.

Transforming the NAMI Board 

The board transformation began after Mary attended Washington Nonprofits’s Central Washington Conference for the Greater Good in Yakima. There she met nonprofit consultant, Susan Howlett and invited her to advise their board on strategic planning. They enacted an intentional selection process for new members.

Pictured: Mary Stephenson (Board President of NAMI Yakima) with new board member at a Washington Nonprofits Boards in Gear training.

Yakima has a large Hispanic population, but NAMI Yakima’s board did not have any Hispanic members. Hoping to have their board reflect the community it is part of, Mary went to the Hispanic Commission to recruit board members. The first Hispanic board member joined the board then the nominating committee. Currently their ten person board has five Hispanic members. They also have a board member with a mental health condition whose “perspective is unique and really helpful.” Another board member is a lawyer, and is able to provide a helpful perspective in terms of clients and attorneys. Each new member was onboarded with comprehensive training, using Washington Nonprofits’ webinars and workshops.

New partnerships took form, such as the free Family and Friends Seminar series that educates and supports those who have loved ones with a mental health condition. At the same time NAMI has become much better known and the Yakima community is better able to take advantage of their services. Board members have taken on new roles on responsibilities, including participation in the NAMI State Conference that will be held in Yakima, Fall of 2018, and NAMI Walks, a major nation-wide fundraiser.

Mary’s tips for how to do this

  1. Focus on the mission. By building their organization’s infrastructure around the mission, NAMI Yakima ended up with an enthusiastic board that is passionate about the organization’s vision. They continue to engage with the community to achieve their mission of providing support, education, and advocacy serves for those affected by mental illness in the Yakima community.
  2. Mary emphasizes how necessary it was for NAMI Yakima to stabilize itself fiscally and legally. At one point they feared they were going to lose their nonprofit status. Through education, they were able to secure their organizational health, giving them the capacity to improve their services and strengthen their leadership. Mary asserts, “We wouldn’t be in this position without Washington Nonprofits.”
  3. Community partnerships can make a big difference. By joining forces with partners such as the Homeslessness Coalition, the Criminal Justice Coalition, and the local reservation of the Yakama Nation, NAMI Yakima was able to provide more services through collaborative funding and programming. They have also received support from United Way and other nonprofits in Yakima who provide them space and funding. United Way Emerging Leaders even worked on their website.
  4. “Trust the process.” When organizations are accustomed to depending on a few strong volunteers (like NAMI Yakima once did), it can be difficult to trust that there are others who will support the mission. You don’t have to know it all or do all of it yourself. There are other people who can do the work. Give them an opportunity to succeed.
  5. Find a mentor, be a mentor. Building a strong board also means building a strong community around the organization. Mary recalls that as she was mentoring new board members, she felt like she learned and benefited from the process just as much as they did. She accentuates the importance of having “a lot of patience with one another and at the same time holding each other accountable.”

NAMI Yakima is recognized for providing relevant and research-based information, education, advocacy and support for individuals and families affected by mental health disorders. NAMI Yakima is dedicated to promoting change that will contribute to an improved quality of life. As an integral part of the overall mental health system, it works collaboratively within the community to eliminate stigma associated with mental illness. With an emphasis on preserving the dignity of all, NAMI Yakima provides hope and help to those impacted by mental health disorders and their families. NAMI Yakima has been a Washington Nonprofits member since 2014.

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