One of the best assets of a nonprofit organization is its Board of Directors. One of the biggest challenges, however, is creating a board that is diverse, inclusive, and representative of the community it serves.
Jeri Eckhart-Queenan, a partner at The Bridgespan Group, believes: “The most effective boards are those that are able to bring together a diverse group of people that bring a range of thought and perspective.”
Having a diverse board not only provides a variety of backgrounds, skills, and resources, but also assists you in understanding your community’s needs. A heterogeneous board may, also, lead to diversity in donors, which is essential to the success of every nonprofit, and allow your organization to appeal to more grantmakers.
A study conducted by Francie Ostrower of The Urban Institute found that 86 percent of board members are Caucasian, seven percent are African American, and almost four percent are Latino.
In response to the lack of minorities on today’s boards, Edith Falk, chairman of Campbell & Company, says “What happens on so many boards is that they recruit people who look like themselves—that’s their circle of friends.”
An open conversation with your current board is the first step in addressing the issue of diversity. In her book Inclusiveness at Work: How to Build Inclusive Nonprofit Organizations, Katherine Pease suggests presenting these questions:
- Are people of color comfortable serving on the board?
- Does the board consider issues relating to race and ethnicity when it sets policies and makes decisions for the organization?
- What could the board do differently to become more inclusive and welcoming?
- What could the board do differently to address the needs of communities of color?
When trying to diversify your board, think beyond race (to avoid tokenism) and also consider dimensions such as age, sexual orientation, disabilities, and gender. It may not be HOW you diversify initially that matters, but just that you DO diversify.
Making the commitment to having a more diverse board is the easy part. Be creative and resourceful, in order to achieve this goal. Start your search by networking with local executive leadership programs, referrals from community leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, or with the assistance of an executive search firm. And remember: It’s not about filling a quota. The right board member will be one who supports the mission of your organization and has a willingness to become a dedicated member of your team.
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