A board of directors provides leadership for an organization. So naturally, we would assume that a board of directors would be populated with people who understand, participate in, and appreciate the organization’s mission, right?

How are you doing in this regard? When you look at your organization, who are you serving? Take into consideration age, gender, race, sexual orientation, level of ability, ideological diversity, etc.… 

The Value of a Diverse Board

I want to be clear. Seeking a diverse board for the sake of diversity can lead to tokenism. However, if a board of directors clearly defines its priorities and fosters a culture of continuous learning, greater diversity of participants can lead to greater engagement. 

According to Dr Debra Brown, President and Chief Executive Officer of Governance Solutions, a diverse board adds:

  • Competitive advantage
  • Robust understanding of opportunities, issues, and risks
  • Inclusion of different concepts, ideas, and relationships
  • Fewer decisions based on ‘group-think.’
  • Better, more balanced decision-making, dialogue, and debate
  • Enhanced capacity for oversight of the organization and its governance

Current Board Statistics

Before we dive into how to make adjustments, if what you see is a misalignment of board membership and the body of people you serve, consider some stats from The Nonprofit Times:

  • Nonprofit boards are 78.6 percent white, 7.5 percent African American, 4.2 percent Latino American, and 2.6 percent Asian American, according to The Impact of Diversity: Understanding How Nonprofit Board Diversity Affects Philanthropy, Leadership, and Board Engagement.
  • The U.S. population, by comparison, is 76.9 percent white, 13.3 percent African American, 17.8 percent Latino American, and 5.7 percent Asian American, per census data.
  • 83.1 percent of board members are age 40 and older as compared to 61 percent of the general population.
  • 47-percent share of board memberships is female compared to 50.8 percent of the general population.
  • Boards with a higher percentage of women, for instance, were graded higher by CEOs for fundraising performance and were more significantly engaged in advocacy activities than male-dominated boards. 
  • Boards with more significant members younger than the age of 40 were more likely to enjoy board member involvement, particularly in fundraising.

Adjusting your Board Matrix

So, how can you make sure that your board reflects your organization’s mission, vision, and values as well as those you serve? 

First, address any unchecked biases. I always advise that you bring in an expert for this. These can be tough conversations, and having an experienced, professional guide can be more productive. Before you invite diverse perspectives onto your board, make sure you are ready and open. Not sure where to start. Try this site.

Next, take a look at who you serve. If possible, identify groups by age, race, etc., and determine the percentage of participation any group has in your programs. Then, take a look at your board membership. Do the percentages align. If not, keep reading!

Ask your current leaders and board members who they have in their network that would be a good fit for current and future positions. Invite them to consider those that fit into diverse categories, but remember that it is entirely inappropriate to place someone on your board only because they fill a quota. For your organization’s sake and the individual you are inviting, they need to have the right passion, skills, and understanding to be a valuable board member. 

It’s essential to have a strong pipeline of prospective board members. Don’t just think about your immediate needs but the next 5-10 years of membership needs as you consider people.

Then, consider inclusivity. It’s nice to have a diverse board, but you won’t see the total value unless every member is fully included. Again, go back to your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion professionals and invite them to train your board to ensure that you are doing your very best.

Finally, when you invite new members to the board, please make sure you name the value that they bring to the board. Of course, call out the unique perspective their membership in any group might offer and identify their professional skills, heart for mission, etc.

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