Ready, Set, Join! Board Diversity Efforts Mean Greater Opportunity to Serve

Among the latest trends in nonprofit and corporate board leadership is the efficacy of making boards more diverse. Socially conscious investors are increasingly steering money toward companies with gender-diverse boards, according to Investors See Advantage in Diverse Board (February 10, 2014, Wall Street Journal).  The idea behind this drive for gender diversity, is “that if everyone has the same background, they may also have very similar viewpoints. The theory goes that diversity brings disruption and can lead to better ideas,” according to Jason Katz, a New York-based financial adviser with UBS Wealth Management Americas.

A new study produced by Commongood Careers and Level Playing Field Institute presents some very stark diversity statistics:

Today’s nonprofit employees are approximately 82 percent white, 10 percent African- American, five percent Hispanic/Latino, three percent other, and one percent Asian or Pacific Islander. The gap in representation is more pronounced in nonprofit governance, where only 14 percent of board members are people of color. Similarly, in specialized functions such as development, less than six percent of roles are filled by people of color.

What’s significant about the study, however, are not the reflexive conclusions of most diversity studies: nonprofit staff isn’t very diverse; nonprofit boards aren’t very diverse; nonprofits need more diversity; and nonprofits don’t know where to find people of color. Rather, the takeaway is that good intentions aren’t enough. According to author Rosetta Thurman in Nonprofits Don’t Really Care About Diversity, (Stanford Social Innovation Review), “the study showed that most nonprofit employees perceive that their employers claim to value building diverse and inclusive organizations, but that they do little to back up that claim.” Out of 1,600 nonprofit professionals interviewed nationwide for the study, 90% believe that their organizations value diversity, though 70 percent believe that their employer does not do enough to create a diverse and inclusive work environment.

So how do nonprofits overcome this disconnect to go from rhetoric to practice? The Bridgespan Group, an advisor to nonprofits, cites a three-step process:

1. Communicate — Your board should have an open, thoughtful discussion to consider how it and your organization, community, and constituents might benefit from diversity within the board.

2. Act — Develop a case and plan for change: Create a pipeline of candidates; Avoid tokenism; Involve: When you have identified promising candidates, find ways to connect with them and cultivate their interest.

3. Monitor and Measure Results — Monitor progress quarterly or semiannually; Track retention rates of diverse members; Conduct exit interviews; Administer board self-assessments; and Survey staff, constituents, and stakeholders about their perceptions of the organization’s culture of inclusiveness.

Worth adding to the above prescription are the actions of candidates from under-represented groups themselves. Once you’ve committed to serving on a board, one of your very first steps should be to obtain board training from a board leadership program. One comprehensive program for individuals living in the tri-state area is the Board Leadership Institute (BLI), offered through Seton Hall University’s Nonprofit Sector Resource Institute. What makes this a stand-out is its depth (it takes 16+ hours to cover the wealth of board-related material), flexibility (the program can be taught onsite at client locations), and board-matching service, in which participants are individually matched with appropriate boards based on their skills, interests, and locales.

For more information about the BLI, please contact Audrey Winkler, NSRI Director, at

Post written by Stephen F. Izzo-MPA Graduate Student-2015.




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