There are 1.4 million nonprofit boards in the U.S. with sixty-four million board members. Of these board members, 78% (49,920 million) are white. These are alarming numbers because they show a great disparity in representation—for reference, more than 40% of the US population is comprised of black and brown people. When your nonprofit’s board does not accurately represent the community you serve, how can you have an accurate pulse on what your community needs? Or even the effectiveness of your programs?
Your board’s diversity (or lack thereof) can impact your nonprofit in many ways. Keep reading to learn why this is so important and what steps your organization can take to increase your board’s diversity.
Why we should care in the first place
We know there are many benefits of diversifying boards. The business case for diverse boards includes having better business outcomes, increased operating efficiency, and organizational growth. These are significant and they matter. Having a diverse board of directors, with diverse lived experiences, “…Can bring a realistic view of the community, strengthen the organization’s connection and credibility to its constituency, improve fundraising, and assist with grants distribution,” according to Forbes writer, Sahar Andrade, MB.BCh. Yet, only 7% of board members are Black, 4% are Latinx, and 3% are categorized as other which includes Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and other minority groups that are often overlooked.
Per Leading with Intent, (BoardSource’s Index of Nonprofit Board Practices) 66% of executives and 45% of board chairs expressed dissatisfaction with their boards’ racial and ethnic diversity. This reiterates the notion that those who are closest to the problem (lack of diversity) are also closest to the solution!
In addition, creating a board that’s representative of your community is crucial because it builds trust between your constituents and your organization. Boards that reflect the diversity of their community are more likely to have an accurate gauge on the issues impacting your community—combatting the effects of group think and helping your nonprofit develop strong programs that are highly effective.
It is time for us to be better humans
But what about the human case for diversification? Isn’t it just the right thing to do? You know… include everyone? Why is this so hard?
It boils down to power. Those who have it, want to hoard it. There is a great read on this subject, The Sum of Us, What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. In it, author Heather McGhee shares some lessons that Americans have failed to learn. McGhee argues that, “Americans have been fed a zero-sum story that says progress for people of color will take away what white Americans already have. She further explains that racism costs all Americans by allowing wealthy individuals to take away resources from all of us.
McGhee shares examples about public pools in the South that were drained in the 1950s and 1960s because white residents refused to integrate them. As a result, no one, not even white residents, was able to swim. In other words, inequity and inequality (and by extension, exclusion) hurts everyone. On the other hand, sharing access to resources (and power) benefits all of us. Everyone is afforded opportunities to enjoy the water and swim or serve on boards and change the world!
Nonprofits belong to communities
Organizations should revisit their values and put them to work. If your organization is really meant to serve the public good, that means it serves all of us. Take time to critically consider how your nonprofit can serve the good of its community, especially if your leadership does not resemble your community. Nonprofits belong to communities, not board members.
Operating in oblivion is no longer an option for nonprofit leaders
The population of the United States is changing and according to the July 2020 report from the Brookings Institute, our nation is diversifying faster than predicted.
Boards can no longer be out of step with these fast-changing demographics. Once your board agrees to prioritize the representation of, and connection with, its community, there are some things they can do to implement true change. Read through the tips below to learn how you can begin to increase your board’s diversity!
Tips from The Board Pro:
1. Take a selfie!
Take a good hard look at your board and how it functions. What do your policies and practices look like? Is equity embedded in your bylaws, in your strategic plan, or fundraising?
2. Check your nonprofit’s ecosystem
Be clear about who your organization serves. What are their challenges? What other organizations work within those communities? How does your organization help? How do your stakeholders perceive you?
3. Know why diversity is needed
Why is diversifying your board a good thing? What message do you send by adding voices from the communities you serve?
4. Disaggregate your board stats
What skill sets and industries are missing? What racial groups are absent? Are different age ranges present on your board?
5. Assess your board’s culture
What about your board culture? Are you ready to include new people in the room? Are they free to come just as they are? Do they have a seat at the table and feel comfortable sharing their perspectives? Individuals with disabilities? Gay? Black? Female? Transgender? Latino? Non-Binary? Jewish? Poor? Native American? Homeless? Working mothers? Young and old? Most importantly, are you ready to invest the time to make changes and welcome them?
6. Consider outside council
Changing culture and mindsets can be a challenge. As a board leader you should seek outside counsel to help your board embed equity into your culture and find diverse professionals to support your mission.
7. Create a pipeline
There are numerous ways you can create a pipeline of qualified and diverse candidates for your board. Here are two: First, begin tracking promising professionals of color earlier in their careers and devote resources to their development. Second, appoint people of color to advisory boards to build their skills and experience.
8. Know where to find diverse candidates
Cast a wide net to include Black/Hispanic chambers of commerce, civic groups, churches, sororities, and fraternities. Search for board candidates on LinkedIn, Indeed, and Work for Good. Don’t forget to consider donors, vendors, volunteers, alumni, and parents as potential board members!
9. Onboard new members properly
Once you’ve recruited new board members, be sure to extend a warm welcome with a thorough orientation. Be sure to invite staff and other board members. Share Mission Moments, upcoming events, and ways new board members can get involved immediately so they feel welcomed.
10. Make room and watch your board soar!
Remember, leaders who are bold and who live into their values are never silent about hard things. It is time for boards to invite in those who have been historically shut out. Once your board makes room for them, they will have different points of view and lived experiences to improve their engagement in strategic planning, fundraising, advocacy, and community involvement. These are all strengths and benefits of having a diverse board.
Christal M. Cherry, The Board Pro, works with nonprofits to build better boards. Her services include board recruitment and onboarding, DEIB training and audits, board fundraising, financial stewardship, and conflict resolution. Learn more at www.theboardpro.com.