Seeing your organization through the eyes of the entire community you serve is advantageous. Diversity allows your organization to operate within the bigger picture. There are clear dividends of a diverse board, but diversity for diversity’s sake isn’t always the best practice. In fact, recruiting staff and board members solely to meet diversity quotas should never be a viable option. Recruit talent, not tokens, and you’ll create a strong board that will strengthen your organization for your community.
A nonprofit board of directors should be strategically designed to guide your nonprofit toward its mission and provide essential governance. When considering new board members, maintaining an appropriate level of diversity should be kept at the forefront.
Of course, it’s easy to recruit board members from a pool of your colleagues (and even friends and family), but it’s not the best idea. The board has a primary function of ensuring the organization fulfills its commitment and responsibility to the public as stated through their mission, code of ethics and charter. They achieve this through a check and balance system where accountability plays a vital role. A diverse group will benefit the board when creating policies around whistleblowers, conflicts of interest and financial auditing because diverse groups are more likely to have strong accountability measures. Diversity can also assist in setting the organization apart from others. Boards that are diverse are adhering to social norms and acceptance, sometimes resulting in garnering more support.
I understand that recruitment is a year-long, ongoing process. It’s time consuming and takes a lot of heavy lifting, but I’ve compiled a few of my best tips to get you started toward diversifying your board:
1. Implement and enforce board terms and term limits
Have a set number of years per term, and also limit members to a set number of terms. This forces a new selection, and with the introduction of new members comes new ideas, different perspectives, skills and access to resources.
2. Avoid generalized screening methods
Instead of using a process that gets you an overview of who potential board members are, search for particular skills and expertise in areas where you have requirements. This also allows you to spend time on diversity.
3. Hold a diversity training for your board
Once you’ve selected members, encourage and foster an environment of inclusion for your board. The impact will transcend into your staff and will likely increase diversity within volunteers. Boards with cultural, ethnic, gender and professional diversity tend to result in diversified resources.
Diversity may not be easy to achieve or maintain. Matters of race, religion, politics or sexual orientation often lead to challenging, sometimes nasty discussions. But this is what you need! Diversity allows for all of those differences to be highlighted and appreciated. When you have a diverse and talented board, you’re making your nonprofit a vessel for everyone to come together and build something special. As board members are able to create meaningful dialogue and ideas with one another, this will serve your organization well on its way to achieving its mission.