A window to your world
Making sure your board echoes your community’s diversity
Board members are your nonprofit’s ambassadors to the constituencies you serve. But when someone from the outside takes a look inside, does she or he see a reflection of your community, or are the images a mismatch?
Identifying the problem
In its infancy, a nonprofit may simply want to get the word out about its mission. So recruiting as many loved ones, friends and friends of friends as possible may be the most efficient approach. As time passes, however, the not-for-profit might find that it’s represented solely by one race, sex, religion or economic class.
Such lack of diversity can signal an underlying problem: a disconnect from the community. A nonprofit can improve its funding and program effectiveness when it reflects the population it serves, as well as the community (or communities) in which it operates.
Mixing things up
What’s considered “healthy” diversity will vary from organization to organization. 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 or economic. The goal is to mirror the population you serve in your appointees to the board.
If your bylaws limit the number of board members you can have at any given time, you might consider amending them to include the nonprofit’s commitment to board diversity. Be very careful, though, that the size of your board doesn’t become unwieldy. There are other ways to commit to well-balanced leadership and community input. (See the sidebar “Other paths to diversity.”)
Assessing skills and demographics
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 a particular demographic. 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 females, persons of color, young adults or individuals with a financial background.
Getting the word out
Identifying that your board needs more diversity is easy. Figuring out what to do about it can be more difficult. Start with your current board members. Communicate with them the need for diversity — if they haven’t already vocalized the need themselves. Ask members to dip into their personal and professional networks to help find the right individual(s) for your nonprofit.
Also gather input from your community and the organizations that serve it. Your chamber of commerce might be a place to start, but there are many options. If your nonprofit lacks the perspective of young professionals, for example, contact a local “young professionals” group, such as Colorado Springs’ Chamber Rising Professionals, Leadership Pikes Peak, or recent college graduates. Does your organization need diversity via a financial perspective? Express your need to a local CPA firm.
Using local resources
Local nonprofit associations can prove very helpful to your organization. Both the Colorado Nonprofit Association and the Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE) offer many resources and opportunities to help you find the right board members and to equip them for their board service.
Building an effective board of directors should be a challenge that your not-for-profit happily faces. Every time a board member resigns, an opportunity to give your organization the wings of diversity emerges.