Tips for Diversifying Your Nonprofit Board

Making a nonprofit board more diverse and inclusive won’t happen overnight and changing a culture takes time. Here are some steps leaders in nonprofit can take to make sure their organization is headed in the right direction to become part of the solution and not the problem. 

Take inventory of your current board’s strengths and weaknesses.

There are many types of board members. Some will be able to bring large donations to an organization, another will be plugged into the population your nonprofit mostly serves and another member may bring business knowledge from their experience in corporate America. According to the National Council of Nonprofits, recognizing your board’s strengths, but also their weaknesses is a great place to start when trying to diversify your board. Maybe your board is majority white even though your organization serves mostly populations of color, or perhaps your organization serves families in poverty, but doesn’t have any board members who have themselves experienced similar levels of poverty. Bringing these voices into the organization will help fill necessary voids that can lead to greater impact.

Recruit for skills, not just for a look or education background.

Jermaine Smith, development director for Educare New Orleans and Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, co-director of Building Movement Project in New York City, encourage leadership at nonprofits to rethink their qualifications. Think about what roles on your board and in your organization can be filled by a person who has life experience outside of a classroom. A degree doesn’t always guarantee a person will be able to do a job effectively. Look beyond the traditional lens of qualifications members on your board currently have.

Turn to your constituency for help.

Oftentimes, the community you serve is a great resource when it comes to filling vacant positions. Talk to your community and ask them who they’d like to see serving on your board and in other leadership positions within the organization. 

Train your current board on what diversity and inclusion looks like when it works. 

We all have implicit bias — or attitudes and stereotypes that affect our understanding of a situation. Work as a board to confront those and work through them. Then, consider what overcoming those barriers will take and make a plan to do just that. Recognize that board members don’t have to be perfect, they just have to start.