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Board Diversity, Equity And Inclusion Is Imperative For Nonprofits

Strengthening Community Ties: How Nonprofit Leaders Can Better Approach Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The death of George Floyd and other tragedies involving Black Americans issued a wake-up call for most everyone. As it should, it also prompted attention to the lack of diversity in the nonprofit sphere. As the details of these tragedies unfolded, the incidents opened up a national conversation about the need to take a serious look at the issue of diversity, equity, and inclusion within every organization and walk of life.

It’s not uncommon for nonprofits to recruit experienced and qualified businesspeople to serve on their boards. While they’re experts at running nonprofit organizations, nonprofit board members don’t always understand their communities or the social context of the issues that affect their constituencies. Research shows that there is a huge disparity in the nonprofit world relative to diversity and equality in nonprofit leadership. To be effective, nonprofit leaders need to understand the people they serve. Greater understanding is easier to attain when nonprofit leadership is more reflective of its constituency.

The recent tragedies have brought a much-needed focus on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the nonprofit realm. A couple of large nonprofits are leading the way as examples of how nonprofit organizations can better approach diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Research Uncovers Disparities in Nonprofit Leadership

The concern over racial disparities in nonprofit leadership is not a new issue. Dating back to 2006, the Daring to Lead report showed that 82% of nonprofit executive directors were Caucasian.

In more recent reports, we find the following:

In light of these valuable reports, nonprofits can make strides forward by taking appropriate steps to increase nonprofit diversity.

Moving Toward Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Perhaps one of the best things that has risen from these horrible tragedies is that It brings new topics for discussion into nonprofit boardrooms across the country.

The issue of nonprofit diversity presents an opportunity for nonprofit board members to become more greatly connected to their communities. This is a prime time for board members to initiate genuine conversations with people in their communities to get an up-close and personal look at their issues. These new conversations have the potential to become a catalyst where board members can become more acutely aware of the perspectives, obstacles, and needs of their communities. This is a time for active listening and gaining a greater understanding of whether the nonprofit’s work is truly fulfilling the needs of the community.

A few large nonprofits have led the way in setting good examples for other organizations to take steps toward nonprofit diversity.

Examples of Nonprofits Leading the Way

In our quest to learn more about nonprofit diversity, we found a few good examples of nonprofits that are taking strong steps to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into their practices.

For example, United Way of Metro Chicago set up a four-month program called the Board Leadership Institute to help business leaders interested in serving on nonprofit boards. The program was designed to educate philanthropic business leaders in the Chicago area who have a goal of serving on nonprofit boards to gain a deeper understanding of the opportunities and challenges that Chicago neighborhoods are facing. Also, the program equips them with the best tools to be of service in the greater Chicago area.

Chicago area community leaders and United Way staff lead the charge in teaching future board members about issues like the following:

  • Social impact of income inequality
  • Impact of Chicago’s housing crisis
  • Defining racial equality in Chicago
  • Impact of systemic inequalities connected with the challenges facing various Chicago neighborhoods

United Way partnered with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School Center for Nonprofit Management to offer classes on general board governance topics such as finance and accountability. To date, the program has been a great success, graduating almost 30 business and philanthropic leaders from its first session. Leaders who graduated from the program were then matched with nonprofits throughout the Chicago area.

Other nonprofits have taken a slightly different approach to expand nonprofit diversity efforts. The following organizations have established advisory boards or councils to assist boards in their efforts to implement diversity initiatives:

  • KERA, North Texas
  • Shields for Families, Los Angeles
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of King County, Seattle
  • Howard Brown Health Center, Chicago

Advisory boards provide a valuable resource for boards to form new partnerships and relationships to develop new principles around nonprofit diversity and implement new changes and practices.

Overall, these initiatives demonstrate that a move toward diversity, equity, and inclusion presents new opportunities to change conversations that have more meaning and impact.

How Board Portal Technology Can Assist with Nonprofit Diversity Initiatives

Collaboration is a necessary component of improving nonprofit diversity. BoardEffect designed its board portal with all the right tools to manage the various nonprofit board cycles. Also, your nonprofit board can conduct your nominating, recruiting, and advisory board activities completely within the security of the portal.

BoardEffect was designed as an all-in-one platform to manage board meeting activities, communication, and collaboration for your board and all your committees. Your portal securely stores your documents which you can use to demonstrate progress toward your diversity efforts. The granular permissions feature ensures that only qualified individuals have access to various parts of your portal.

Your committees or workgroups can share messages and files without worry over discussions being hacked, compromised, or lost. As you move toward making impactful changes in nonprofit diversity, why not take advantage of the right technology to assist these very important initiatives?


Keep Learning:

[On-Demand Webinar] Tips & Tools for Building a Diverse Board Virtually

Your non-profit board has committed to becoming more diverse, and is working hard to recruit and onboard new candidates. Stacey Woodland, CEO of YWCA Tri-County Area, joins us to discuss ways to harness digital tools to help you do this critical work.



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