Diversity on Nonprofit Boards

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Having a board with diverse perspectives is critically important. Each person will bring his or her own personal and professional contacts and life experiences to their service on a nonprofit board. With a diversity of experience, expertise, and perspectives, a nonprofit is in a stronger position to plan for the future, manage risk, make prudent decisions, and take full advantage of opportunities. A diverse board that is also sensitive to cultural differences is usually one that has a stronger capacity to attract and retain talented board members - as well as to be in touch with community needs.

Why is diversity useful?

  • When a nonprofit's board reflects the diversity of the community served, the organization will be better able to access resources in the community through connections with potential donors and/or collaborative partners and policy makers.
  • A diverse board will improve the nonprofit's ability to respond to external influences that are changing the environment for those served and in which it is working.
  • Better decision-making: When a nonprofit board is facing a major decision, diverse perspectives on the board are better qualified to identify the full range of opportunities and risks.
  • Boards that are not diverse risk becoming stagnant: if all the board members travel in the same social circle, identifying and cultivating new board members will be a constant challenge.

Practice Pointers

  • Cultivate new board members who can expand the board’s collective cultural awareness. Look for candidates with a variety of professional expertise, cultural backgrounds, spectrum of life experiences, and geographic reach, who can help the nonprofit respond to future needs.
  • What are your current board’s strengths and where could it be strengthened? Conduct a self-assessment of your board to find out.
  • Spark candid conversations about diversity, and other important issues for boards to wrestle with, using this Tip Sheet.
  • What should the board look like in the future? Consider where the organization is going and what skills, experiences, contacts, and professional/personal backgrounds will be most helpful to the organization in the near term - but also in the foreseeable future. This post offers suggestions about questions that can help you identify the qualities/experiences your nonprofit will need to be sustainable - that also can lead to increased diversity on the board. 
  • Set goals for expanding the profile of the board in certain areas. Start evaluating board candidates with those goals in mind, and make sure all the current board members know what to look for when they are considering and cultivating future board member prospects.
  • What is the board’s current “culture”? Is it welcoming to individuals of diverse backgrounds? When you invite someone to join the board you will want them to feel comfortable and become engaged with the mission, their role, and their colleagues on the board. Cultural sensitivity helps make new board members immediately feel valued - and ups the chances that they will remain engaged.
  • Think about what a new board member's impression of your organization will be. Onboarding board members with a thoughtful orientation can help manage expectations and presents an opportunity to introduce veteran board members to the newcomers, as well as establish mentoring relationships that can help knit together a diverse group.

Resources

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