Nonprofit boards have historically lacked diversity.
Ensuring board diversity has taken on new urgency recently as leaders have more fully recognized the value of including more women and people of color in the boardroom. When boards do not reflect the communities or populations they serve, they risk becoming stagnant and missing opportunities for growth and funding.
But recognizing a need for diversity does not make it happen. Building a diverse board requires a mindful, dedicated approach. Organizations can utilize four approaches to help cultivate diversity on their boards.
Before you define diversity for your organization, begin with an understanding of your current board’s strengths and weaknesses. Many boards do not talk regularly about areas of potential improvement. Self-assessment serves as a powerful tool for boards, and utilizing it regularly makes the task less daunting.
Try a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis. Break down the assessment into your major governance areas — strategy, fundraising, advocacy, performance, and diversity. Making diversity part of the normal conversation is key to more open discussions about next steps.
2. Define success
Does your board understand and embrace the broad concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I)?
These three ideas work together to create a welcoming and opportune environment. Diversity means a range of differences exist within the organization, while equity covers fair treatment, advantage, and access. Inclusion means cultivating a culture of respect, support, and value. In combination, DE&I fosters the hope that board members will share their different backgrounds, ideas, and opinions in a fully engaged, positive manner in the governing process.
3. Recruit with intent
Simply checking the box on gender and racial diversity will not provide the long-term benefits your board needs. You want great directors with the skill sets and talents your organization demands.
Networking provides opportunities to access qualified candidates, but your board must also take steps to recruit more effectively and broadly. One idea is to look for candidates below the C-level. Seek smart up-and-comers who can add unique voices to the board. Also, depending on your current board make-up, adding retirees or active executives can open the door to more diverse candidates.
Finally, you must embrace a diversity succession plan, now. A proactive approach will give you time to replace board members with candidates who meet your diversity goals.
4. Take a long-view approach
Recognize that you cannot develop a diverse, equitable, and inclusive board overnight. The process changes the board culture and not just the demographics. With this in mind, wisdom dictates you take a long view and evaluate your progress often.
For example, take time to cultivate relationships in underrepresented groups, organizations, and constituencies so that as you look at them for board talent, the also look at you for places to serve. Be transparent about your desire for more board diversity and talk about it at your events and fundraisers. Share your plans and solicit input.
A diverse board will help you meet the challenges your organization faces, now and in the future.
We have worked with many nonprofit boards to set goals and create action plans. Use our free change success diagnostic to evaluate your progress in making an organizational shift, or call us for input specific to your organization.
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