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Leader Board: Advancing Latino Leadership Through Nonprofit Boards

Editor’s Note: Gaddi H. Vasquez has a long career in Orange County business circles, including as SVP of government affairs at Edison International. He was director of the Peace Corps from 2002-06 and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies based in Rome from 2006-09. A recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 2014, Vasquez is currently on the board of governors for the Orange County Community Foundation.

Nonprofit organizations are vital to our communities’ stability and quality of life.
To fulfill their missions, they depend on effective boards that reflect the regions they serve. However, despite representing nearly 20% of the U.S. population, Latino professionals are vastly underrepresented on nonprofit boards.

According to Latinos Lead, the nation’s only census of Latinos in nonprofit governance, of all organizations within its California database which represents 11,954 board members, only 12% or 1,383 board members are Latino; and of the 862 nonprofit organizations listed, 37% or 320 boards have zero Latinos represented.

Orange County, with 34 cities and 3.1 million residents, is 34% Latino—a proportion that will continue to increase as our region grows. Unfortunately, Latino professionals often lack pathways to nonprofit board service and leadership despite the ardent desire of nonprofits to attract Latino board members.

To address this gap, the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF) has launched the Avanzar Board Leadership Academy modeled after a successful program of the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley. With support from consulting firm Adelante Partners, the Avanzar Board Leadership Academy will equip emerging Latino professionals with the necessary skills to become engaged and effective board members for OC nonprofits.

The 19 inaugural Avanzar graduates, who completed the program in June 2023, hail from careers at Tesla, Automobile Club of Southern California, Chapman University, Foodbeast Media, Girls Inc., and more.

These professionals will bring a unique perspective to their nonprofit board service, informed by their lived experiences and bolstered by the rigorous training on board governance, fiduciary duty, and nonprofit management gained through the Avanzar Board Academy.

Over the summer, OCCF hosted networking opportunities to connect Avanzar graduates with local nonprofits aligned with their skills and interests. Among several nonprofits that have now elected Avanzar graduates to their board, Waymakers led the way with three members: Laura Chavez, Daniel Garcia and Franky Baras.

“These exceptional young professionals each bring unique skills to their roles as a board member,” said CEO Ronnetta Johnson. “Between them, Waymakers will benefit from their expertise in the areas of technology, organizational strategy, nonprofit governance, and the perspective of lived experience,” Johnson said.

What follows are the experiences of four Avanzar graduates who hope to inspire other Latino leaders to make the leap and unlock their potential in nonprofit leadership roles for the betterment of our community.

To learn more about the Avanzar Board Leadership Program or to apply, visit www.oc-cf.org/avanzar.

Andre Valenzuela
Kachinga/Lendistry

I’m honored and proud to have been a part of Avanzar’s inaugural cohort. Through the program, we received thought leadership and insights from inspiring and renowned professionals who are already paving the way for the next generation of leaders.

Accepting a nonprofit board leadership role will continue to position me as a dynamic and influential leader in my industry. I look forward to this experience not only showing my dedication to making a positive impact in my community but also allowing me to expand my network and forge valuable connections with like-minded professionals and potential mentors.

By intertwining my passion for social impact with my professional aspirations, serving on a nonprofit board will undoubtedly open doors to exciting new career opportunities, enhance my personal growth, and hopefully leave a legacy of change.

Israel Serna
Autodesk & Adelante Partners

The Avanzar Board Leadership Academy provided me with the foundational tools and insights needed to make a lasting impact in the nonprofit sector. Through interactive workshops, engaging discussions, and mentorship, I learned how to navigate the complexities of board governance, strategic planning, financial management, and much more.

More importantly, I became aware of the need for increased representation in board of directors positions, addressing the challenges people of color face for such roles and opportunities. My focus will be on nonprofit organizations supporting small businesses and organizations in the arts and education due to my experience in a creative field.

Serving on a board has always been an aspiration of mine, and I had the incredible opportunity to enhance my skills and knowledge in nonprofit board service. I am eager to put my newfound knowledge into action and create positive change as I consider nonprofit board service.

Edward Mendoza
Auto Club of Southern California

I gained valuable insights into the realm of nonprofit board service during my participation in the Avanzar Board Leadership Academy. I learned about the many roles and opportunities a person such as myself may experience while serving on a board.

Most importantly, I learned of the lack of diversity in California’s board structures today and the importance of having increased representation in these leadership groups. Selecting the right board to serve is a matter to consider with one’s own personal and career motivations.

Laura Chavez
Girls Inc. of Orange County

From the fourth grade until my freshman year in high school, I benefited from the services of nonprofit Waymakers through OCCF’s ACT Anaheim initiative. I participated in after-school workshops at the Oak View Family Resource Center, where I received leadership development, future planning, and mentorship from program coordinators.

I subsequently received a college scholarship from the Hispanic Education Endowment Fund (HEEF), which has helped 2,700 OC students achieve their college dreams through $3.8 million in scholarships awarded over the last 30 years.

I now have a rewarding career at Girls Inc. of Orange County and am serving on the board at Waymakers thanks to the support and knowledge received through the Avanzar Board Leadership Academy.

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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