Casting Your Nonprofit Board’s Net WIDER

In some ways, it seems the conversation about nonprofit board diversity has been happening for decades, yet the 2021 Leading with Intent study from BoardSource revealed that, in the US, 78% of board members and 83% of nonprofit board chairs are white.

But, as we know, diversity is not only a race issue, and the study also shows that 99% are cisgender and about 70% over the age of 45.

These are disheartening figures indeed; however, they are unsurprising, given that board recruiting, cultivation, and evaluation require much more attention from the sector than they currently receive. So, what should nonprofits be aiming for?

The WIDER Goal

For a successful board recruitment strategy, nonprofits must think WIDER.

W is for Welcoming

Organizational culture is critical for attracting a broader range of board applicants, and before a board can be diversified, a nonprofit needs to fully examine inclusivity across the spectrum of activity. Is the organization merely an echo chamber or is room made for differing views? Also, regularly review the general onboarding process and consider more bespoke onboarding activities tailored to individuals.

I is for Inclusive

To ensure that nobody is excluded from service due to lack of prior board experience, a board-buddy program can be useful. Teambuilding programs will also help new, inexperienced board members to integrate with existing board members more quickly.

D is for Diverse

Crucial, too, is to recognize that nobody, not even CEOs of nonprofits are immune to unconscious bias. Project Implicit is a survey tool developed by Harvard University that will help identify such biases. Ongoing diversity training for the board to address any biases is essential.

E is for Equitable

Sometimes board hierarchies can emerge that are based on the relative wealth of board members. Remember that a board has 3 functions: strategy, governance, and resourcing, and also remember that fundraising ability is not the sole facet of resourcing. Look at what each board member brings to the table in terms of educational experience, industry experience, and life experience and treat all assets as equal in value.

R is for Representative

Nonprofits need a strategy for recruitment that is not about filling vacant seats at the board table; it must be rooted in the needs of the communities it serves. Indeed, the same study shows that nearly 50% of the nonprofits surveyed did not believe that their boards had the diversity required to build trust with their communities. Recruiting board members with shared lived experiences as beneficiaries is not always/often possible, but try to get as close as possible. You could also consider setting up a “shadow board” composed of community members that feed into the official board.

Unfortunately, despite many matching platforms serving the for-profit sector, there remains very few effective, scalable, or efficient board-matching services for the nonprofit sector at this time. Nevertheless, with the right vision and leadership, technology can help board recruitment become more successfully diverse, but only on the condition that the sector, its funders, and every nonprofit applies WIDER values to board recruitment and governance.

Read more about the need for and development of technological solutions for improving board-level leadership in Doug Bolton’s chapter, “Technology and Services are Poised to Create WIDER Nonprofits” in Transforming Disruption to Impact: Rethinking Volunteer Engagement for a Rapidly Changing World, out now from Amplify Publishing.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.

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