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Charity diversity, equity and inclusion: Key issues for today


Communities are home to a diverse group of people. People generally like to be served by people much like themselves, which is the primary reason for all non-profits to focus heavily on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Failing to demonstrate diversity sends a message to stakeholders that your not for profit is being disingenuous.

The Charity Governance Code Principle 6. Equality, diversity and inclusion can help charities and non-profits see if they are making any headway in creating more diverse boards.

We’re tackling the question of whether not for profit boards are becoming more diverse and, if so, whether they are maximising all board members’ potential or just ticking the boxes.

Are not-for-profits making progress in diversity, equity and inclusion?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is not a new topic for not for profit organisations. One of the first studies to establish a marker for diversity in the not for profit space was “Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices,” a report by BoardSource. The report was based on a survey of board chairs and executives from over 1,200 nonprofit organisations.

The survey showed that 84% of board members were white. The 2021 Leading with Intent study shows a slightly reduced percentage with 78% of board members who are white and 83% of not for profit board chairs who are white. While the data shows improvement in not for profit board diversity, progress has been glaringly slow.

The latest report also shows the following statistics:

  • 53% of board members are white
  • 6% of board members are gay, lesbian, or bisexual
  • 1% of board members are transgender
  • 73% of board members are aged 35-64
  • 5% of board members have disabilities

Furthermore, nearly half of not for profit board directors believe their boards do not have the right demographics to “establish trust with the communities they serve.”

The recent BoardSource study showed that 32% of boards felt their board members place a high priority on “knowledge of the community they serve,” and 28% of board members place a high priority on “membership within the community they serve.”

Sadly, we can easily deduce from these statistics that board members are still largely disconnected from the people they serve.

Targeted trustee recruitment is the key to improving diversity

What is your nominating committee’s approach to board member recruitment?

If they’re willing to entertain almost anyone available and willing to serve, your board isn’t likely to make progress with diversity. The same goes if your nominating committee prioritises referrals from board members of people they like.

Forming a board that leverages diversity, equity, and inclusion has to begin with a targeted approach to board member recruitment.

Another insight from the 2021 Leading with Intent study states that non-profits that define a mix of diversity, skills, and connections the board needs and use those definitions as a starting point found it easier to recruit board members than non-profits that took a different approach. The lesson here is the more targeted your board member search is, the easier it will be to build a qualified, diverse board.

Taking a targeted approach to recruitment begs the question of, “What strategies will open not for profit boards up to more diverse networks?”

The following seven tips will guide you in the right direction:

  1. Draw from your existing community leaders
  2. Get referrals from leaders in the community your not for profit serves
  3. Put out feelers from your current or former program participants
  4. Seek out strong leaders from partner organisations or peers
  5. Advertise board openings publicly
  6. Host conferences or events to attract diverse candidates
  7. Enlist the help of an external headhunting agency or board matching service

Defining diversity, equity, and inclusion

Words can have multiple meanings, and even when terms have the same definitions, they can hold different meanings for various people.

It’s best to come to a consensus on the definitions for each term and record them in writing to ensure your entire board is on the same page with how they interpret diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The San Diego Foundation and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Extension Foundation provide good examples of non-profits that have established definitions for diversity, equity, and inclusion and made them available to the public.

Improving strategies to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive board

Targeted board recruitment is a process that should be structured around what your board needs. To that end, a plan is just a plan without execution, so here are some solid strategies for creating a diverse, equitable, and inclusive board.

Don’t recruit diverse candidates just to check the box. The purpose of establishing a diverse board is to help your current board make better decisions, position board discussions to draw out multiple perspectives, and treat everyone equally. A diverse board will also give you access to new and different community resources and a whole new pool of donors.

Board member recruitment must be intentional to be effective. Recruits should be evaluated in light of what they can contribute to the non-profit. Nominating committee members should also strive to cultivate new board members to prepare them for opportunities for future leadership.

Also, your board should have a strategic plan for keeping board members engaged and encouraging them to strengthen relationships with other board members. New board members should be welcomed and given opportunities to contribute to board discussions and in other ways.

To drive improvement in diversity, equity, and inclusion, it helps to gain support from champion board leaders. They will inspire and motivate other board members to do the same.

Make sure to define key metrics for your ED&I goals and measure them regularly to track progress.

Overall, non-profits set the standard for what a diverse group of people can accomplish when they join together for the common good, making things better for everyone.

Theresa Sintetos

Content Strategist and Operations Manager with six years of growth in the same company, moving up from social media specialist to executive strategy and director of operations. Skilled in research, writing and editing broad range of content.

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