The demographics of nonprofit boards tend to follow the trends of corporate boards. In recent years, corporate boards are recruiting more women for their boards and they’re having good success. There’s also a move to recruit different ethnicities to boards and that effort has been a bit slower. The conversation of diversity within nonprofit boards is just as important as it is within corporate boards.
While women and people of color help to diversify boards, it’s important not to overlook other dimensions that shape discussions and bring diversity into the boardroom.
In considering your recruitment efforts, consider these attributes markers:
- Sexual orientation
- Professional background
- Level of ability
- Socio-economic status
Boards are more in tune with the needs of the people they serve when they’re comprised of the same demographics. Strong debates are healthy and many perspectives coming together in the boardroom make for robust discussions and good decision-making.
The lack of diversity can cause harmful division in nonprofit boards. Best practices for nonprofit board diversity encourage nominating committees to do comprehensive outreach in their recruitment efforts.
Diversity Adds Value for Nonprofit Boards
When nonprofit boards approach diversification with the intent of adding value to the organization, they’re better able to tackle problems from many different angles. Forbes magazine points to diversity and inclusion as key drivers of internal innovation and business growth.
That can only happen when boards allow diverse members to engage and take their opinions seriously. It’s vital for boards to avoid recruiting diverse board members out of tokenism or for the sake of appearances. When diverse members voice their opinions, it helps the others open up their minds. Together they can identify and pursue opportunities for innovation. Healthy, well-rounded debates help nonprofit boards investigate issues thoroughly.
7 Steps to Increase Board Diversity for Nonprofits
If your board has been in existence for some time and it still lacks diversity, it’s important to consider why the board hasn’t worked on it to this point. Your board will thrive by having a mix of personal, experiential, and other varied demographics.
If the board is relying completely on referrals from current board members, they’re probably recruiting people just like themselves. That doesn’t do much for nonprofit board diversity. However, all isn’t lost.
When nonprofit boards understand the reasons they need to increase diversity on the board and make a commitment to seeking and recruiting a fully diverse board, it’s the first step to breaking past practices and moving in a better direction.
If you need some ideas, here are 7 steps to get you on the path to nonprofit board diversity.
Bring biases out of the closet.
The first step is always the most difficult, but it’s important to get the elephant out of the room. Put the issue of nonprofit board diversity on your agenda. When the item comes up at your meeting, have an honest, open discussion about it. Do your best to uncover any biases. As a group, identify specific issues that are contributing to overlooking diverse recruits or not reaching out to them at all.
Examine your recruiting and nomination processes.
Biases can shape the recruiting process if the committee doesn’t have a diversity policy that outlines how to recruit a diverse board. Review your postings for board member recruiting and assess what kind of people they’re likely to draw. Be sure to add a statement of inclusivity in your print and online postings. Also, check for any potential for biases during the review process. Make sure that all candidates feel equally comfortable and that no one feels pushed out.
Take a survey of your entire organization about diversity.
Evaluate whether the board’s demographic matches that of the people it serves. If they’re vastly different, and your survey results indicate that your members and others in the community don’t recognize a diverse board, there’s always a chance to make change as board vacancies open up.
Get the board in alignment with your vision for diversity.
Nonprofit board diversity won’t happen without a concerted effort on everyone’s part. Don’t be afraid to be the lone wolf when it comes to taking a stance on diversity. Often, it just takes one person to bring it up for others to join the vision. As the momentum for a diverse board builds, be non-confrontational in your approach. Biases, in one form or another, are common.
Decide on a new recruitment strategy.
If what you’ve been doing isn’t working, it’s time to change things up. Cast a broader net to find some new people. Tap into social media outlets like Facebook and LinkedIn. Network with other nonprofits that have diverse board policies and find out what works for them.
During your recruitment process, it’s important to focus on each candidate’s skills and experience. All things being equal, it’s appropriate to prioritize under-represented populations.
Portray diversity in your promotions.
A picture is worth a thousand words. Review your website, brochures, and presentations. Do they reflect the type of diversity that you want to attract in new board members? If not, it’s time for an update on the promotional media that you use for outreach.
Draw potential recruits from your current membership and your community.
The people that you serve and those that have invested in your membership are already familiar with many of the challenges you’re facing. Have you considered that they may be the best people to serve as your next board members?
Your BoardEffect board portal provides a secure place to store your board diversity policy, your other policies, and your board meeting minutes. It also supports all of your efforts to promote diversity within your organization.
Once you’ve reached your goal of nonprofit board diversity, make a conscious effort to avoid tokenism and allow diverse board members to serve their intended purpose. If they feel like they’re not a part of the board and you selected them only to check a box, you’re defeating your purpose. Boards that are successful in developing a culture of inclusivity will benefit as they become more adaptable, more effective, and they’ll excel with risk management.
Learn how nonprofits like the YWCA are embracing diversity in our recent webinar, Tips and Tools for Building a Diverse Board Virtually. This session will cover ways to use digital tools as a bridge throughout the board building process, including:
- Strategies for board member recruitment, interviews, and building trust virtually
- Tips for handling nominations and elections online
- Approaches to onboarding and orienting new candidates remotely