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Ways Technology Can Help Increase Volunteer Board Diversity

7 ways technology can help increase volunteer board diversity


Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is now a critical part of the conversation in every boardroom in America. Corporate boards are gradually working toward increased diversity and chasing the recognized value in more diverse leadership. But diversity in the boardroom can be even more important — and even more impactful — for nonprofit organizations.

What you’ll learn

  • The broad range of attributes covered by the term “board diversity”
  • How board diversity creates value
  • 7 ways to use technology to help increase volunteer board diversity
  • How you can create a central command center to help drive board diversity

A diverse board comprising a broad and representative range of backgrounds, perspectives and expertise is a fundamental pillar that strengthens decision-making, enhances innovation, and ensures a nonprofit organization can remain relevant and responsive to the communities it serves. Additionally, nonprofits that receive federal funding may be required to demonstrate that their boards match the demographics they serve.

But board diversity is not a switch you can flick “on,” or a product you can purchase and install. In fact, despite good intentions, many nonprofit organizations struggle to realize their board diversity goals. Roughly half (49%) of nonprofit leaders say they do not have the right board members to “establish trust with the communities they serve,” according to Leading With Intent.

The good news is that, as with many facets of volunteer board operations, technology can help you more effectively and efficiently progress toward your board diversity goals. This blog will cover seven tech-enabled strategies to increase the diversity of your volunteer board – and show you how you can use BoardEffect to execute on these proven strategies.

What does board diversity look like?

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. The following is a list of attributes that should inform your board diversity efforts — but your list may include other factors that more closely relate to the representation of your communities:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Background
  • Ethnicity
  • Culture
  • Experience
  • Nationality
  • Sexual orientation
  • Education
  • Professional background
  • Level of ability
  • Socio-economic status

How board diversity creates critical value for nonprofit organizations

DEI may have roots in supporting social values that are harder to quantify, but make no mistake: Diverse leadership drives measurable value. We can now look to extensive research from academia and analyst firms (Harvard Business Review, Boston Consulting Group, Forbes, Deloitte) showing that more diverse and inclusive companies are more profitable. Why?

  • Enhanced innovation: Greater diversity among directors brings a broader range of ideas, sparking greater creativity and innovation — whether it’s coming up with new offerings, changing how the organization operates or thinking of new fundraising ideas.
  • Better problem-solving: When an organization faces a discrete challenge, diverse leadership helps to generate a fuller range of considerations and produce unique and effective solutions.

But the value of diverse and representative leadership goes even deeper for nonprofit organizations:

  • Greater community trust: The community’s trust is the lifeblood of a nonprofit organization. Building a board that reflects the diversity of that community helps to foster relatability, credibility and trust among community members.
  • Broader resource connections: Nonprofits frequently rely on access to resources through a network of professional and community connections. A more diverse board helps to broaden the horizons for these connections, expanding access to more resources, more partners, more policymakers, etc.
  • Better decision-making: Nonprofit boards have more than a fiduciary duty — they need to make decisions that best serve the mission of the organization and the needs and interests of their communities. A diverse board helps ensure that the full range of voices, perspectives, opportunities and risks are considered as the board makes key decisions.

7 ways to use technology to help increase volunteer board diversity

A board diversity effort cannot be taken on by one individual or even one department within a nonprofit organization. The facets that impact diversity touch various teams and processes, so it needs to be an organization-wide initiative — one that is built into the culture of your nonprofit organization.

One challenge is that it often feels like there’s no single, clear path to achieving board diversity or broader DEI goals — no “first do X, then Y, then Z.” That’s where technology can help turn your efforts into more of a data- and process-driven science.

Here are 7 ways to use technology to help increase the diversity of your volunteer board:

1. Bring biases out of the closet

The first step is always the most difficult, but it’s important to acknowledge the elephant in 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.

Tech-enabled strategy: Use BoardEffect’s dynamic meeting book management to easily (and definitively) put board diversity on the agenda for an upcoming board meeting. This centralized meeting book ensures all directors can see this critical topic will be covered and can come to the meeting prepared for an honest discussion. You can also use BoardEffect’s anonymous surveys and polls to get an understanding of the current experiences and perspectives represented on your board, as well as any known biases.

2. 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. Ensure all candidates feel equally comfortable and that no one feels pushed out.

Tech-enabled strategy: You can build customizable approval workflows in BoardEffect to ensure that every board recruiting communication includes language around the prioritization of diverse leadership, and that the candidate review process includes steps that consider the diversity attributes of a candidate relative to the community and current board members.

3. 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. In that case, there’s always a chance to make changes as board vacancies open.

Tech-enabled strategy: You can use BoardEffect’s survey, custom field and reporting features to simplify the tasks of analyzing the current make-up of your board, assessing views on diversity among staff, and tracking and visualizing your progress toward board diversity goals.

4. 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 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.

Tech-enabled strategy: As you define your diversity strategy, you can use BoardEffect’s resource library to make sure all directors and other relevant staff have access to the latest documentation. You can also use collaboration tools to make edits, suggestions and refine your diversity strategy together.

5. 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.

Tech-enabled strategy: Set up a secure workroom in BoardEffect to manage recruiting and enable the nominating committee to review candidate information together. The workroom makes it easy for each individual to see all the relevant documents and includes features like a discussion board, polls and surveys to facilitate natural and effective collaboration.

6. 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 you use for outreach.

Tech-enabled strategy: Bring all of your promotional materials into a BoardEffect document library, so your board members have time to review and weigh in on ideas for enhancing how diversity is highlighted.

7. Draw potential recruits from your current membership and your community

The people that you serve and those who 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?

Tech-enabled strategy: You can create profiles of your current board members in BoardEffect, adding custom diversity attributes so you can easily see where you board stands from a diversity standpoint — and identify the gaps in background, experience, expertise and other areas.

BoardEffect creates a central command center to drive board diversity

Enhancing board diversity requires a joint effort from all directors, as well as other key stakeholders in your organization. Your BoardEffect board portal serves as your central command center for this coordinated effort.

From making sure board diversity sits at the top of the meeting agenda, to surveying current board members to understand diversity gaps, BoardEffect can help you build an informed framework for your efforts to enhance diversity. Recruiting, nominating and advisory board activities can be carried out within secure workrooms, taking advantage of collaboration features that make it easy to discuss and make effective decisions.

You can build custom approval workflows to ensure that diversity considerations remain an integral part of every board recruiting post, every nominating process, and every candidate evaluation decision. And BoardEffect’s intuitive reporting tools help you track your progress – and provide credible transparency to stakeholders in your community, demonstrating your ongoing commitment to enhancing diversity among your organization’s leadership.

Put BoardEffect to work for your nonprofit organization

If you’ve identified diverse leadership as a gap or top priority in the coming year, you need more than good intentions to be successful. BoardEffect gives you the tech-enabled visibility, collaboration and decision-making needed to build a board that more accurately represents and more effectively serves your communities.

Ed Rees

Ed is a seasoned professional with over 12 years of experience in the Governance space, where he has collaborated with a diverse range of organizations. His passion lies in empowering these entities to optimize their operations through the strategic integration of technology, particularly in the realms of Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC).

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