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Why your nonprofit’s board needs to be diverse

Ideally, a not-for-profit’s board of directors should mirror that of its community and clientele. Does yours? Identifying that your board needs more diversity is the easy part, though. Figuring out what to do about it can be more difficult. But it’s important because it can affect your funding and program effectiveness.

Striking a healthy balance

In its infancy, your nonprofit probably just wanted to get the word out about its mission. So you may have recruited family members, friends and friends of friends for your board. As time passes, however, your not-for-profit might find that it’s represented solely by one race, sex, religion or economic class. And such lack of diversity can signal a disconnect from your community.

What’s considered “healthy” diversity will vary from board to board. But think of it like this: The more diverse your board is in attributes, the more diverse it will be in thoughts and ideas. This diversity can come in many forms — physical, societal and economic.

If your bylaws limit the number of board members you can have at any given time, you might consider amending them to accommodate your nonprofit’s commitment to board diversity. Be careful, though, that the size of your board doesn’t become unwieldy.

Start with what you have

The first step to a great mix is to ask board members to write their own profiles. In the instructions you give — or on the form you provide — include the attributes you consider important, such as skill sets and particular demographics. From this information, you’ll be able to see what the board may lack.

Look at the group as a whole and assess where the organization lies on the diversity continuum. Imagine a scale from “1” to “5,” with “5” displaying your nonprofit’s ideal diversity. Assess your members and give yourself a score. The diversity, or lack thereof, should be obvious. You may find, for example, that the board is underrepresented by women, persons of color, young adults or individuals with a financial background.

Find new members

Explain the need for diversity to your board — if members haven’t already vocalized the need themselves. Ask them to help find the right individuals in their own personal and professional networks. Also gather input from your community and the organizations that serve it. If your nonprofit lacks the perspective of younger people, for example, contact a local “young professionals” group in your area or recent college graduates.

If you’re having trouble finding qualified board members, try a board placement service. Some communities have board training programs for people interested in joining nonprofit boards. Professional associations also can be a good recruitment resource. Some state CPA organizations, for example, help match accountants with nonprofits that need volunteers with financial expertise.

Term limit option

If you’re reluctant to enlarge the size of your board, take every resignation to put in place an individual who will help you meet your diversity goals. But if this process ends up being too slow, you might want to consider implementing term limits for board members. Contact us if you have any questions.

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