Diversity is more than just a buzz word or a politically correct action. And it’s about more than just appearances. Having a diverse board is essential for nonprofits. It provides a variety of perspectives, experiences, and networks; all of which make you stronger and more effective. Particularly for small nonprofits, diversity ensures that your board doesn’t all come from the same pool of contacts; which fosters a healthy, vibrant representation of the community you serve.
Diversity on your board also leads to diversity within your organization, from staff to members to donors. We gravitate to communities where we feel welcome and included, regardless of whether we look or sound alike. When an organization’s leadership reflects the greater community—in age, gender, race, class, etc.—the community develops a greater trust in that organization. We are attracted to them because they “get” us.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
It’s not enough to simply have people of different backgrounds on your board. To fully embrace diversity, you need to create a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Many nonprofits and boards are eagerly committing to DEI as a means of working from within to promote change.
- Diversity: embracing different backgrounds; including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, language, socioeconomic status, disability, and religion strengthens nonprofits.
- Equity: equal representation challenges biases (overt and implicit), exposes harassment, and confronts discrimination.
- Inclusion: welcoming all people and perspectives grows healthy organizations, inspires creativity and collaboration, and increases empathy.
For a deeper look into DEI and how to incorporate this work into the core values of your nonprofit, we recommend these resources from the National Council of Nonprofits.
Why Diversify Your Board
The benefits to diversifying your board range from tactical to financial to personal. They are both obvious and discreet, but their impact is undeniable.
Expand Your Network
When was the last time you gathered a room of lawyers, artists, accountants, consultants, and retirees to discuss a common goal? If all of your board members come from the same general background, chances are they run in the same social and/or professional circles as well. Which means your donors and volunteers will come from the same pool; creating a homogenous, almost group-think atmosphere. When you diversify your board, you gain the benefit of myriad backgrounds dedicated to your nonprofit. You also gain the benefit of their networks.
Enrich Decision Making
The group-think atmosphere mentioned above is detrimental to decision making. Any board that agrees on everything is either uninformed or lazy. Think about it. If everyone in the meeting has the same opinion, then why should any one member do their homework? Why not just defer to the board chair? Through diversity, we gain unique viewpoints which spark questions that expand our outlook. Diversity creates deeper conversations which lead to more thoughtful decisions.
Create Generational Impact
Many nonprofits are thinking about cultivating the next generation of donors. But what about the next generation of board members? A healthy board has term limits, usually 2-3 years. The benefit of diversifying your current board is that it will create a ripple affect throughout your entire organization. A multi-generational board attracts new supporters and advocates to your work. Cultivating that “new blood” will benefit your nonprofit for generations to come.
What is your board’s current demographic breakdown? Are you creating a culture that embraces DEI from within? It’s a sensitive conversation to have, but your board—and your nonprofit—will be stronger for it. And your donors and greater community will notice.
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