As the decision-making body at the highest level of organizational leadership, boards play a critical role in creating an organization that prioritizes, supports, and invests in diversity, inclusion, and equity.
Whether in the hiring of the executive, the determination of strategy, the allocation of resources, or the goal of serving the community with authenticity, the board’s leadership on diversity, inclusion, and equity matters.
As stewards of the public good, all social sector organizations, regardless of mission, are called on to embrace and celebrate our common humanity, and the inherent worth of all people. In doing so, we must also acknowledge that a climate of growing intolerance and inequity is a challenge to our democratic values and ideals. Divisions along economic, racial, religious, and political lines have created an increasingly polarized society in need of healing. And the complex issues and dynamics at the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality call for deeper thinking as we seek to understand each other.
We believe that social sector organizations are better able to do this work effectively and with authenticity when they are led by boards that are
- diverse: The individual leaders who compose nonprofit boards are a reflection of an organization’s values and beliefs about who should be empowered and entrusted with its most important decisions. We believe that all social sector organizations can better achieve their missions by drawing on the skills, talents, and perspectives of a broader and more diverse range of leaders, and that the diversity of viewpoints that comes from different life experiences and cultural backgrounds strengthens board deliberations and decision-making.
- inclusive: The most effective boards work to build a culture of trust, candor, and respect — none of which is possible without a culture of inclusion. Boards that cultivate an inclusive culture ensure that all board members are encouraged to bring their perspectives, identity, and life experience to their board service. An inclusive board culture welcomes and celebrates differences and ensures that all board members are equally engaged and invested, sharing power and responsibility for the organization’s mission and the board’s work.
- equity-focused: Boards play a critical role in helping organizations understand the context in which they work and how best to prioritize resources and strategies based on that reality. An awareness of how systemic inequities have affected our society and those an organization serves enables boards to avoid blind spots that can lead to flawed strategies, and creates powerful opportunities to deepen the organization’s impact, relevance, and advancement of the public good.
Highlighted Research, Articles, and Resources
The following resources have been curated by BoardSource and reflect what we believe to be some of the best thinking and practical advice to boards on diversity, inclusion, and equity – and the relationship between the three – across the social sector (and beyond). While some of these resources apply to specific sub-sectors (higher education, foundations, etc.), we believe that all of them have relevance to the work of nonprofit boards of all kinds.
The James Irvine Foundation
Council of Michigan Foundations
Russell Reynolds Associates
Other Articles & Perspectives
A Stronger Case for Board Diversity | Rick Moyers, Nonprofit Leadership Blog
For years, we’ve been making arguments for board diversity as a smart business strategy that can help nonprofits broaden their outreach and freshen their thinking. And not much has changed. Maybe it’s time for a more pointed case.
Beyond Political Correctness: Building a Diverse & Inclusive Board | Vernetta Walker, vice president of programs and chief governance officer, BoardSource
Exceptional nonprofit boards recognize that diversity is essential to an organization’s success. They see the correlation between mission, strategy, and board composition and understand that establishing an inclusive organization starts with establishing a diverse and inclusive board.
People Counting | Vicki J. Rosenberg, former director and consultant, Transforming Michigan Philanthropy Through Diversity & Inclusion, Vicki Rosenberg & Associates (BoardSource blog)
The typical approach to the demographic shift is to count people — by race or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity, physical ability, or age. In 2001, the Council of Michigan Foundations started promoting a different approach. It encouraged its members — 350 grantmaking organizations working together to strengthen, promote, and increase philanthropy in Michigan — to move beyond counting people to people counting.
Does Your Board Foster Inclusivity? | Marla Cornelius, senior project director, CompassPoint
Inclusivity, a critical component of board culture, often gets reduced to discussions of diversity which are important in terms of board composition, but do little to address the more important issue of valuing and appreciating how cultural difference enriches board work, strengthens governance, and underpins responsible community stewardship.
Recruiting for Board Diversity | Jan Masaoka
We recognized that for organizations of color, women’s organizations, immigrant organizations, and others, demographic diversity may be inappropriate, or framed differently. In this article we build from there for an organization that knows what board members need to do, and as a result, who they might need to be.
The Face of Nonprofit Boards: A Network Problem | Tivoni Devor, manager of partnerships and outreach, Urban Affairs Coalition (Nonprofit Quarterly)
Within BoardSource’s 2015 governance index, “Leading with Intent,” there lies an interesting paradox when it comes to board diversity. Forty-five percent of the boards and 69 percent of the CEOs surveyed are dissatisfied with their board’s diversity. If boards are so dissatisfied with their racial makeup, why is so little being done to improve these numbers? These survey results leads one to think it must at least partially be connected to how board members are recruited.
How to Make Socioeconomic Diversity a Priority in Your Board Search | Drew Lindsay, The Chronicle of Philanthropy
Organizations need to make recruitment a more holistic, intentional process, champions of diversity say. Too often, charities do casual searches that rely on scanning candidates’ credentials and tapping board members’ personal networks. Instead, they need to purposely seek individuals who might never hit the radar of a traditional search.
How to Catch a Unicorn: Diversify Your Nonprofit Board Like You Mean It | Jermaine L. Smith, development director, Educare New Orleans (BoardSource blog)
I am a millennial. I am a black man. I am a fundraiser. I am a board member. These are some of the ways I describe myself. Yet, as my experience in the nonprofit sector has deepened, I have discovered that many board leaders describe me a different way: I am a unicorn.
The Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap: Flipping the Lens | Cyndi Suarez, senior editor, Nonprofit Quarterly
Building Movement Project’s just-released leadership report (June 2017), “Race to Lead: Confronting the Racial Leadership Gap,” highlights what many of us know: The nonprofit sector is experiencing a racial leadership gap.