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Why Board Diversity is Crucial and How to Maintain It

Though America is more diverse by the day, the state of association and nonprofit boards is somewhat monochrome. Recent surveys by the nonprofit consulting group BoardSource found that only 22% of boards included people of color in 2021, and only 38% of board members felt that their boards represented the communities they serve. Other research found that women hold 43% of nonprofit board memberships, but only 33% of memberships on boards of nonprofits with annual budgets over $25 million.

The good news is that diversity is growing, and you can take action to be part of the solution and reap the benefits of a more diverse board.

Why Diversity?

Better Decisions—The fastest route to groupthink is having leadership that is all cut from the same cloth. A diverse board will see all aspects of a problem or opportunity more clearly and will make better decisions.

Greater Understanding—A board drawn from numerous walks of life will better understand societal changes affecting your work, and the issues faced by the populations you serve.

Better Recruiting—One of the best sources for diligent, capable board members is the social circles of current members. A board whose members are similar will have similar social and work contacts and is likely to struggle with recruiting.

A Better Image—While no one should be recruited solely for the differences between them and other board members, there’s no denying a board that is demographically uniform (or otherwise very similar) may cause those outside the organization to make unwarranted assumptions. Even those who realize there is no intent to exclude will be more apt to see your association as “behind the curve.”

What Kind of Diversity?

When many people hear the word diversity, they tend to think of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. These are certainly important, but the diversity that makes a great board also has a variety of thought and viewpoint.

Other areas of diversity to consider:

  1. Socioeconomic status

  2. Generational diversity—Boomer, early Generation X, and even the Silent Generation board members have great accumulated experience and wisdom. Younger board members will have fresh perspectives and knowledge that will be invaluable.

  3. Former volunteers and staff—You can gain invaluable insight into operations (and a strong dose of passion!) by bringing volunteers or staff members onto the board. This can be accomplished either through rotating them onto the board for a term, or by recruiting them after they have retired from their role.

  4. Career diversity—Choosing board members from different career fields not only increases viewpoint diversity, it brings skills to the board that can be put to work for the association’s benefit, such as marketing or finance experience.

Creating a Diverse Board

The best place to start is with your agenda. Introduce an ongoing agenda item regarding diversity. Assess your current situation, discuss what gaps exist, and how you want the board to look in the future. You may want to include a board self-assessment that focuses on diversity as part of this process.

After this strong start, move on to these other steps:

Create diversity by looking for talent in new places, rather than looking for new types of people—BoardSource refers to this as “Recruiting for skills – not for ‘the look.’” Rather than committing to having a certain type of person on the board, commit to looking for the right talents among groups you had not recruited from before. This process will produce candidates who are the right long-term fit but come from diverse groups.

Implement concrete steps which every board member participates in—Agree on outreach tasks each member can take, such as committing to discussing the board’s mission and needs with 3 individuals who are outside the current board demographics. A little intentional action can go a long way.

If using a search firm or association management company (AMC), ask them to think outside the box—When you set the search parameters for the agency to use in their search, consider asking them to forward you one candidate who is outside those parameters, but that they feel will add something new to the board. This might result in a great “hire,” but will definitely give you new ways to think about your board and its roles.

Could Your Board Benefit from Working with an AMC?

At V2, we’ve provided full service and outsourced services for national associations for many years and can deliver the resources and expertise that help you thrive. Get in touch with us today, and let’s see how we can improve your association together.


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