skip to Main Content
The Risks Of Neglecting Board Diversity Are High Stakes For Nonprofit Boards

Experts share tips for mission-driven organizations on DE&I


Mission-driven organizations strive to serve their communities and constituents with integrity and purpose. By recognizing and committing to the values of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) throughout their organization and within their governing boards, they are one step closer to achieving this goal.  

Why is DE&I so critical?  

As DE&I awareness grows, nonprofits and their boards are reminded of the intrinsic social justice and the benefits from implementing authentic DE&I policies and practices. These include increased employee satisfaction, better volunteer and donor engagement, stronger collaboration as well as added creativity and innovation.  

We asked a team of global experts from various areas to share insights on the benefits of DE&I in their organizations and on boards. They also highlight ways to measure your DE&I progress. Read on to stay current with guidance and tips from these experts in DE&I.  

Experts discuss DE&I in mission-driven organizations

Each of our experts brings a unique perspective to the importance of diversity and inclusion within organizations and on governing boards.  

Organizations with DE&I policies have real impact. 

“Solving our most pressing social issues, providing a safety net of love and care, this is the immeasurably critical role of our social sector organizations. The profound impact of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is a centerpiece of the stewardship of these organizations; sustained and effective social response and problem solving requires diverse and inclusive governance. Far beyond corporate strategy; it’s about fulfilling missions effectively. Consider this: When boards embrace diversity, the pulse of our communities strengthens, and our impact magnifies. Nonprofits are focused on purpose-driven outcomes and the implementation of DEI efforts are critical ways to create and measure success. It’s about ensuring that every voice is heard and valued, every perspective is considered, and every individual has equal opportunities to contribute.” — Julie Castro Abrams, CEO, How Women Lead and Managing Partner, How Women Invest

“In my work with nonprofits, I’ve observed firsthand how embracing DE&I can catalyze positive change, fostering environments where creativity flourishes and solutions to complex societal challenges are found through collective wisdom. For board members, this means actively engaging in continuous learning, challenging existing paradigms, and being willing to lead by example. It’s about creating spaces where diversity is celebrated, equity is pursued with tenacity, and inclusion is the norm rather than the aspiration. The path to achieving this is ongoing and iterative, requiring a commitment to listening, learning, and adapting. By making DE&I central to our mission, values, and daily operations, we not only enrich our own organizations but also contribute to building a more just, equitable, and inclusive society.” — Patrick Downes, Partner, Governance Ireland

Inclusivity equals effectiveness and innovation. “DE&I matters because organizations that create career pathways and opportunities for a diversity of people can benefit from the very best talent in the labor market. Research from Diversity Council Australia’s Inclusion@Work Index consistently shows organizations that focus on building an inclusive workplace are more productive, high-performing and better at managing problems and identifying risks. The 2023-2024 Inclusion@Work Index found workers in inclusive teams are nearly 10 times more likely to be innovative, nearly nine times more likely to work effectively together and four times more likely to feel work has a positive impact on their mental health. They are also three times less likely to leave their organization and more than twice as likely to be willing to work extra hard.” — Lisa Annese, CEO, Diversity Council Australia  

Supplier diversity also matters. “DEI matters also in terms of partnerships and supplier diversity.  The goal of supplier diversity is to promote economic equity and create business opportunities for historically marginalized groups. By intentionally sourcing goods and services from diverse suppliers, organizations can foster economic growth, drive social impact and contribute to the overall development of underrepresented communities.” — Gwen K. Young, CEO, Women Business Collaborative 

“By intentionally sourcing goods and services from diverse suppliers, organizations can foster economic growth, drive social impact and contribute to the overall development of underrepresented communities.” — Gwen K. Young, CEO, Women Business Collaborative 

DEI is culture change. “That doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen at the same pace or in the same way everywhere. That’s not an argument for slowing down. It does mean that when we’re designing new programs, or hiring people to help us redesign processes, that we ask a lot of questions. Luckily that’s what boards do. What do we want our organization to look like in the future? Why will this action help us get there? Why is this process recommended? What outcomes can we expect? What have you measured in our organization and how? What examples are there of other organizations like ours that have been successful (or unsuccessful) in implementing these changes? I recommend the work of Lily Zheng [author of DEI Deconstructed: A No-Nonsense Guide to Doing the Work and Doing It Right] “because she is willing to hold the field of DEI practice to account, and not just call out what institutions are doing wrong. Her advice — be thoughtful, assess where your organization is on its own DEI journey, and don’t just “throw trendy interventions at a problem to see what sticks” — is always worth taking.” — Peggy Northrop, Chief Content Strategist, Radivision; Board Member, Bay City News Foundation; and Trustee, Washington & Jefferson College

As these experts explain, organizations that embrace diversity, equity and inclusion throughout their workforce are better equipped to meet the needs of their diverse communities, attract skilled talent and build strong donor bases. They are positioned to flex with evolving regulations and social norms. They also contribute to the well-being of their employees while benefitting from those employees’ diverse points of view or life experiences.   

Boards benefit from diversity among members

Embrace diversity on the board. “Nonprofit organizations rely on the guidance and leadership of their boards of directors to address complex social, environmental, and community needs. We’ve found that a nonprofit board that embraces diverse voices and experiences is a major factor in the organization’s success, whether it’s strategy, fundraising or program development. However, a diverse board isn’t just about ticking boxes. It’s about harnessing different perspectives to develop effective solutions and deliver meaningful impact. When a nonprofit board faces major choices, having a variety of viewpoints ensures that all angles are considered. A diverse board can identify opportunities and risks that might otherwise be overlooked as opposed to when board members have similar lived experiences and opinions. To be clear, coming to an agreement with a diverse board does take more time, more challenging conversations and potential confrontation. But that is precisely the point; developing sound solutions for mission impact requires doing hard things.” — Maya Tussing, Partner and Co-Founder, Fairlight Advisors

Refreshing board expertise

Some organizations use governance nominating committees to assess board composition, identify skill gaps and actively work on refreshing the board with diverse expertise.  

Skills audits can help. “We’ll go through a skill set matrix. We’ll then identify who’s turning off what areas, and we’ll also look at geography and gender. We then identify where our gaps are as our fiscal year comes to a close the end of June. And then we’ll hold ourselves accountable as board members.” — Larry Gumina, CEO, Ohio Living 

“We’ll go through a skill set matrix. We’ll then identify who’s turning off what areas, and we’ll also look at geography and gender. We then identify where our gaps are as our fiscal year comes to a close the end of June. And then we’ll hold ourselves accountable as board members.” — Larry Gumina, CEO, Ohio Living 

Diversity beyond gender and race. “We have evolved board composition strategy by establishing three-year classes as a substitute for term limits. Beyond diversity around race, we’ve also actively sought age and geographical diversity, realizing the importance of a well-rounded board that reflects the communities we serve.” — Jim Pieffer, President and CEO, Presbyterian SeniorCare Network 

Not only is diversity and inclusion essential within the organizational structure, but it is equally important for governing boards.  When board members come from diverse backgrounds and experiences, they offer fresh perspectives — often challenging biases — leading to balanced and better decisions that might not have occurred without such diversity.  

Measuring DE&I progress

Use tools and metrics. “To get a true read on your organization’s DEI efforts, it’s important to first measure your baseline diversity and inclusion (D&I) data. You can evaluate your organization’s diversity by measuring the demographics in your workplace at every level, including the C-suite, to better understand the needs of your employees and to inform your DEI initiatives. Measuring how inclusive your organization is involves using quantitative and qualitative data to determine the key markers of inclusion that occur when employees are respected at work, connected to others, have opportunities for development and progression in the workplace, and feel as though they are contributing to the success of the organization.” — Lisa Annese, CEO, Diversity Council Australia  

Scrutinize your practices. So, how do we gauge our progress? Let’s look beyond numbers on a balance sheet. Let’s examine our retention rates, ensuring that our teams reflect the diversity of the communities we serve. Let’s scrutinize our practices, from hiring to promotion, to ensure fairness and inclusivity at every step. Prioritizing diversity, recognizing that investing in diversity is investing in our collective future. Our nonprofits are the greatest opportunity to lead the charge towards a more equitable and inclusive society, where our actions speak louder than words and our impact reverberates far beyond our boardrooms.” — Julie Castro Abrams, How Women Lead   

BoardEffect, our nonprofit board management software, is key to helping boards streamline their processes, enhance communications and promote accountability so they can effectively oversee and measure DE&I initiatives.   

“By harnessing governance technology, mission-driven organizations can not only measure but also enhance their DE&I efforts, reinforcing their commitment to creating positive social impact. Through features like customizable surveys and polls, organizations can collect pertinent data on board demographics, perceptions and skills inventory that can inform succession planning and board diversity initiatives.” — Nonie Dalton, Vice President of Product Management, Diligent 

A commitment to DE&I requires intention

Intentionality for results. “Effective leadership and governance thrives on diversity of perspectives and diversity of perspectives doesn’t just happen. It takes intentionality. There are historical and societal systems in play that can undermine diversity efforts but when organizations take a deliberate and purposeful approach, it can lead to more innovative and successful policies, actions, and programs. My organization, under the leadership of our president and CEO and the staff, has exercised great intentionality in all aspects of our governance and it has promoted a thoughtful, proactive, and results-oriented approach for the future.” — Stephen A. Leach, Board Chair, Leadership Center of Excellence  

Ensure every voice is heard and valued. “Diversity, equity and inclusion are the cornerstones of a vibrant, resilient, and impactful nonprofit organization. They go beyond ticking boxes; they’re about weaving a rich tapestry of perspectives, experiences, and skills that mirror the complexity and richness of the communities we aim to serve. To effectively gauge our progress in DE&I, we must employ a multifaceted approach—assessing not just the demographic diversity of our teams and boards but also the inclusiveness of our work environment and the fairness of our practices and policies. It’s about ensuring that every voice within the organization can speak and be heard, that every hand can contribute and be valued. Boards of directors have a unique and powerful role in championing DE&I by embedding these values into the strategic beating heart of their organizations. This commitment is key to driving meaningful change, fostering innovation, and amplifying impact. By prioritising DE&I, we’re not only aligning with our ethical imperatives but also significantly enhancing our effectiveness and connection with the diverse communities we pledge to serve.” — Patrick Downes, Partner, Governance Ireland

Our leaders explain with clarity how important diversity, equity and inclusion should be to every nonprofit organization and board. Only with sincere intention and unwavering dedication to these values, will mission-driven organizations experience the real benefits to their organizations, communities and society at-large.  

Let BoardEffect help on your path to DE&I

Committing to DE&I is crucial for nonprofits, charitable organizations and the boards that govern them. The upsides — from more donor support and operational efficiency to strong organizational cultures and board member collaboration — are many. Yet, with all the other responsibilities and mandates, this can be daunting for nonprofits without supportive resources and technology.  

BoardEffect has been designed to help boards manage those day-to-day, recurring and annual tasks like meetings, documentation, audits and governance so you can focus on building those essential policies on diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Jennifer Rose Hale

Jennifer Rose Hale has over 20 years' experience with digital and employee communications in for- and nonprofit environments. Her writing and client areas of expertise include education, finance, science and technology.

Back To Top
PHP Code Snippets Powered By :