The Value of Board Diversity

by Harlenny Javier, MPA Graduate Student 2015

In honor of Black History Month, we celebrate how far this country has come in accepting other races. It is appropriate to also consider why we have difficulty assembling a diversified board for many nonprofits organizations.

We have often promoted inclusion in all aspects of the workforce, which extends to the nonprofit sector. In considering inclusion, it is appropriate to ask if nonprofit boards are, in fact, sufficiently diverse. A national study found that on average, 86% of board members are white non-Hispanic, 7% are African Americans/Black, 3.5% Hispanic/Latino. What might be the justification for this disproportionate representation among the races in nonprofit boards?

Yes, there are a select few organizations that will likely have African-American or Hispanic board members because their area of expertise aligns with the group’s mission. This reflects the fact that they may have a better understanding of that particular field. This typical scenario repeats the same detrimental effect that such thinking may affect the organization. Shouldn’t we include as board members not only individuals for their area of expertise, but also those that can bring diverse thinking and a range of viewpoints? This approach could greatly enhance the overall mission and success of the organization.

So how do we affect the racial balance on a nonprofit board? The most oft-cited recommendation is the recruitment process of the board members. As an organization, board members first need to look at how are they recruit new candidates? Which skills or criteria are used to identify these individuals? Input from the current board members could help break up the homogeneity of the boards by setting targets for outreach to diverse candidates and a timeline. As a nation, we must work harder to continue to address this change that can bring benefits to all nonprofits.

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