Going Deeper: Reflections from Board Chair Georgette Wong
In this New Year, I am honored and humbled to be chair of NFF’s Board of Directors. I am deeply grateful to our outgoing Board chair Henry A. J. Ramos for his nine years of service and his incredible leadership at NFF. I am also indebted to my incredibly talented and committed Board colleagues and look forward to this next chapter at NFF.
During the time that Henry served as chair of NFF’s Board, NFF has gone through an extraordinary transformation. We reoriented our entire organization around equity by:
- Committing 50% or more of our lending dollars and consulting hours to community-centered organizations led by and serving people of color – organizations with deep understandings of what communities need to achieve their aspirations, but that are often overlooked.
- Devoting at least half of our communications and thought leadership to pieces that advance racial equity – often by advocating for policies and practices (like unrestricted funding) that directly benefit community-centered organizations led by people of color.
- Changing NFF’s culture by prioritizing relationships, lived experience, and DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging). Our staff, leadership, and Board are now all at least 60% people of color, and many of them have deep experience in and relationships with communities like those we serve.
- Hiring a CEO, Aisha Benson, who brings lived experience, a lifelong commitment to justice, decades of experience working in banking and community development finance, and deep networks in government, finance, and the CDFI space.
NFF accomplished many of these goals during an incredibly tumultuous time – a period marked by a global pandemic and an acceleration in activism around racial justice. The communities our clients serve were affected more significantly than almost anyone. The nonprofits we support were on the front lines, helping the people in those communities respond to COVID-19, rally around racial justice, and achieve their aspirations.
As our clients’ needs quickly changed, we adapted the nature of our support. With the support of our foundation partners, we launched zero-interest loan funds to give nonprofits quick access to emergency cash. We pivoted our consulting engagements to virtual. We remained flexible and responsive – and, like many of our clients, we made creative changes that we now plan to make permanent.
Transitions like these can rock even the steadiest boat. But throughout this turbulent time, I remained confident – because I knew that Henry was steering the ship. Having worked as both a grantmaker and nonprofit leader, he’s brought a deep empathy for both perspectives that has made NFF’s work stronger. He’s recruited some incredible Board members. He has pushed us, consistently, to deepen our focus on racial and gender equity.
As NFF enters our next chapter, we will build on the incredible accomplishments achieved under Henry’s tenure. This next chapter could be called "Going Deeper”:
- Going deeper on our commitment to community. NFF’s biggest lesson from the past three years has been that when we respond directly to needs expressed by communities, we build greater trust and achieve greater impact – together. We’ve learned a lot about what it means to center community, but we are still early in our journey. As Board chair, I’ll encourage our staff to remain creative and continue implementing ways to keep the community’s voices and needs at the center of what we do.
- Going deeper on connections between staff and board. NFF’s staff and Board are incredibly talented. They bring expertise, empathy, and lived experience to this work. As Board chair, I’ll seek out opportunities to build connections between our staff and Board, so we can leverage our shared expertise to build an even stronger and more impactful organization.
- Going deeper on NFF’s influence. As a CDFI, NFF occupies a unique and privileged position. We have strong connections with community-centered nonprofits across the country; we also have strong connections with a wide array of government and philanthropic funders. Especially now that Aisha is on board, I’d like to see us expand our influence as an equitable intermediary by advocating even more passionately for the policies and practices that build strong nonprofits and stronger communities.
These are ambitious goals – but I couldn’t be more confident in NFF’s ability to achieve them. We’ve gotten to where we are due to the efforts of many hands – our staff, our partners, our funders, my fellow Board members, and most importantly the nonprofit clients and community leaders we work with.
We’re redoubling our commitment to equity and aim to deepen our impact in the communities we serve. I hope you’ll join us in this worthy and exciting work.
Read outgoing Board chair Henry A. J. Ramos’ reflections on NFF’s journey during his nine-year tenure.