Board room with chairs and window

Leading in the Nonprofit Space: Diversity, Part 4 of 4

How to build a diverse board

By Joel L. Domingo, Ed.D.

What does it mean to have a diverse nonprofit board, and why is this important?  Having diverse leadership at the board level not only ensures that more ideas are brought forth but that perspectives, experiences, and abilities can be leveraged to help the organization.  By diversity, I mean in all forms, whether that is the construct of race, gender, socioeconomic status, skills, abilities, talents, experiences, or something else.

While it is one thing to work to achieve diversity in the first place, an additional question is to consider the impact of board diversity on the mission of the nonprofit organization.  In other words, does a diverse board influence the way the organization goes about the programs that it offers?

Boards represent your community

Let me give you an example: In one community nonprofit organization that I have been a part of as a board member, one of the early conversations at the board level during the formation of the organization was to ensure that the board represented the community that the organization served.  It did not.  Thus, efforts were undertaken to make better inroads into the community and be intentional about finding potential leaders.  While this has happened and still is ongoing, the board composition now better reflects the community it serves.

A more nuanced question remains however, “Does having a diverse board leadership actually translate into practices which reflect diverse opinions and perspectives?”  From all indications so far, the answer is “yes,” but it does take effort and effective leadership (see my last post, Six ways to lead as a nonprofit board member) to ensure that this happens.  I suspect will always be ongoing.

How to begin: find the gaps first

How do you go about even starting to build a diverse board?  A simple way first step is to find out where the gaps are.  The way this board that I served on found out is that we created a table that listed several constructs such as age, gender, ethnicity, background.  We then put the names of the board members down and saw a striking pattern of homogeneity in some places.  Doing this simple exercise completely changed the way we looked at board composition and took candid conversations about the mission, vision, and values of the organization, but it was well worth it!

That is why this subject in many ways is a leadership issue.  Nonprofit leaders who recognize the need for change and bring other leaders in the conversation about change and diversity at the board level are one of the biggest assets to an organization.

This is the final installment in a four-part series on nonprofit leadership. Read Part 1, Leadership to change the worldPart 2, Fundraising and philanthropy; and Part 3Six ways to lead as a non-profit board member.

#Leadership can change the world.  CityU offers graduate and doctoral degrees that focus on nonprofit leadership.