Nonprofit boards throughout Greater Stark County have historically lacked diversity. So in 2019, United Way of Greater Stark County launched a program that aims to change that. Project Blueprint is designed to recruit, train and connect diverse volunteer leaders to policy-making roles and enhance the effectiveness of nonprofit agencies throughout our community.
“We feel like diverse representation is important because our boards and our committees should be reflective of those we are serving,” said United Way of Greater Stark County’s Director of Project Blueprint LaFlovia Ginanni. “We don’t just serve one race, one age group, one gender group or one sexual orientation. We serve a whole community of different types of people, so the people in decision-making roles should be more representative of that.”
The 12-week program introduces participants to the roles and expectations of board members including parliamentary procedures, board governance and fiduciary responsibilities. It also explores broader topics like cultural inclusion and the economics of wealth and power.
Onwar Shaheer, a manufacturing process design engineer at Hendrickson Trailer Commercial Vehicle Systems, graduated from the program in January 2020.
“The more that I gave back to Project Blueprint, the more it gave to me,” said Shaheer. “It gave me the confidence to know that I can make a difference. You don’t have to be the most experienced person. You just have to be committed to a cause. [Project Blueprint] will give you the tools. You just bring your natural self, and you can make a difference.”
Shaheer said the program went beyond the basics of board responsibilities. It strengthened his leadership skills and instilled confidence in his ability to create change.
“The program definitely gives you the confidence and the ability to believe in yourself,” he said. “The sessions reiterate, this is what you can do. This is why we need you in the community. Not just on the board [of an organization]. I know that’s the main goal of the program. But it’s really saying, this is why we need you in the community. This is why we need you to step up and make an impact. They ask you the question at the start, ‘why do you think you’re here?’ And you have to search inside of yourself for the answer to that question.”
Ginanni said gaining that confidence to participate is key, and she hopes every student knows their contributions make a difference.
“I wanted people to not only feel valued but to know that they have something to offer. We want to see more diversity in those decision-making rooms, but if they don’t feel prepared or confident or able to speak, it does no good,” she said. “It’s not just about the numbers. We could easily start assigning people to boards. But we want to make sure that what they do matches their passion and matches their hearts. It’s not just a numbers game. It’s about getting people involved in issues that mean something to them.”
The program graduated 14 students in its inaugural class, and Ginanni said she’s hopes to see that continue to grow.
“I want the community to catch on that this is something of importance. That this is something we should be committed to, not just at United Way, but across our entire community,” she said. “Other nonprofits, other agencies and other community leaders, we can all work together to see this progress. I want to walk into more rooms and see more of what I call, ‘pops of color,’ in the room. I want it to no longer be an issue.”