To fully understand and be responsive to societal challenges, it’s important that nonprofit organizations reflect the broad diversity of the communities they serve. And as nonprofits’ highest decision-making body, their boards of directors should, as well. Diversity includes a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives — including race, color, ethnicity, gender, language, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, age, and physical and mental ability, as well as experience and skillsets.
Yet, a 2019 survey of 102 nonprofit boards of directors found that 61 percent of survey respondents agreed or agreed strongly that their boards or executive committees did not adequately reflect the community or communities served by their organizations. What’s more, fewer than 50 percent of respondents reported any action to increase diversity representation on their boards.
According to the survey report, The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity on Nonprofit Boards of Directors, “Nonprofit organizations—and the boards that govern them—must play a key role in breaking down systemic barriers and creating an inclusive, more equitable nonprofit sector.”
Principle 11, Board Diversity, encourages boards to “be inclusive of and sensitive to diverse backgrounds when recruiting members, in addition to recruiting board members with expertise and professional or personal experiences that will be beneficial to the organization.”
Beyond the broad description of diversity included above, Principle 11 says board member diversity should also take skillsets into account. This includes members who are financially literate to ensure that financial matters are conducted legally, ethically, and in accordance with proper accounting rules. Consideration also should include experience in personnel, fundraising, public relations and marketing, governance, advocacy, and leadership, knowledge of the organization’s area or expertise and programs, and special connections to the organization’s constituency.
Does your organization need to be more pro-active about ensuring your board is representative of the communities being served, and has necessary skillsets to appropriately carry out its responsibilities? Refer to Principle 11 for guidance, along with these helpful resources:
- BoardSource, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- National Council of Nonprofits, Diversity on Nonprofit Boards
- The Center for Effective Philanthropy, The Nonprofit Sector’s Board Diversity Problem
And with so many challenges facing sector leaders today, consider signing up for Ethical Leadership: Navigating Rough Waters With Ease, offered March 30 – April 20. Co-produced by the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance and Independent Sector, the course covers key issues and risks facing social-impact leaders, using real-world examples, tools, and strategies. You’ll also receive a valuable toolkit of resources that can help you ensure your decisions are ethical. And, if you’re an IS Member, you’ll receive a 20% discount.
For more resources to guide you in ensuring your organization operates in an ethical and accountable manner, refer to Independent Sector’s 33 Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice, and additional online tools and resources in our Principles Resource Center.
Global Topics: Civil Society, Equity, Ethics and Accountability, Identity, IS Member, IS Staff, Organizational Relationships, Race, Equity, and Inclusion, Voice
Focus Areas: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Organizational Relationships, Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice