Diversity and Building an Effective Nonprofit Board of Directors

Effective governance is essential for every nonprofit as it works to fulfill its mission and vision. While it seems obvious that this responsibility lies with those who hold leadership roles within the organization, the board of directors also must be engaged, diverse and dedicated to their commitments as board members to help the agency achieve its greatest potential.

Your nonprofit board of directors should be strategically designed to guide your agency toward its mission and provide essential governance. When considering new board members, maintaining an appropriate level of diversity should be kept at the forefront.

To create your most effective board, consider the following questions and strategies:

  • Are candidates passionate about what they do AND about what your organization does? Being passionate in both ways will enhance their contributions exponentially!
  • Identify candidates who have the specific skills your nonprofit needs to fulfill its mission, for example: strong community ties, a personal connection with those you serve, or financial or legal expertise. While the goal is to create diversity among board members, keep strategy front and center. For example, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide meals to those in need may seek someone who has played an active role in a local food pantry or soup kitchen rather than a local chef. Or, for a nonprofit that serves physically disabled individuals, including a disabled board member will provide personal perspective that only he or she can give.
  • Creating a diverse board will allow your nonprofit to draw from a greater network within your community. Stagnation becomes a risk when many board members overlap in experience and similar social networks.
  • As key decisions arise, having an appropriate level of diversity will allow you to draw from several viewpoints and best evaluate risk vs. reward.
  • Does your board closely reflect the demographic diversity of the clients you serve and/or those in your community? Each community is unique and should be appropriately reflected in local boards.
  • Don’t forget age diversity as a way to greatly increase the cirlces of influence touched by your board members as well as bringing in varied viewpoints relating to marketing, fundraising and social media.

Diversity may not be easy to achieve or maintain. Matters of race, religion, politics or sexual orientation (just to name a few) often may lead to challenging discussions or vastly different views. However, such diversity will provide an essential opportunity for everyone represented at the table to come together, building a greater level of respect and the sharing of ideas. 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.

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