Diversity Can Lead to More Engaged Board Members, Study Finds

Diversity Can Lead to More Engaged Board Members, Study Finds

Nonprofit boards with higher levels of gender, age, and ethnic/racial diversity tend to have more engaged members, a report from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, in partnership with BoardSource and Johnson, Grossnickle and Associates, finds.

Based on an analysis of BoardSource data, a survey of nonprofit CEOs, and case studies, the report, The Impact of Diversity: Understanding How Nonprofit Board Diversity Affects Philanthropy, Leadership, and Board Engagement (58 pages, PDF), examined the relationship between board diversity and fundraising engagement, advocacy engagement, and board member engagement — that is, how involved board members were in community building and outreach as well as oversight and governance, and whether they stayed on the board for the maximum number of terms. According to the study, boards with higher percentages of women tended to be rated higher by CEOs with respect to engagement in all three areas.

The report also found that boards with higher percentages of members age 39 or younger tended to be more engaged in matters of oversight and governance, showed higher levels of commitment and involvement, and were more likely to ask that fundraising expectations be clearly explained, provide more contacts, and solicit gifts from others. While the report found no significant correlation between the percentage of people of color on a board and engagement levels, boards with a higher percentage of Asian Americans were rated higher by their CEOs in terms of fundraising performance.

In addition, the study found that nonprofits focused on education tended to have higher percentages of African-American board members, while religious organizations had lower percentages of women and higher percentages of Latino/as. And although more established organizations and those with higher revenues tended to have less diverse boards, boards of nonprofits founded before 1990 were significantly more likely to be rated as "highly involved" by their CEOs, while nonprofits with annual revenues of at least $5 million were significantly more likely to engage in advocacy work, monitoring the impact of government policy, and providing information to policy makers.

"As the U.S. population grows more diverse, nonprofit boards have an opportunity to engage members that reflect this diversity in their work," said Una Osili, associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. "Diverse board members have the capacity to improve the organization’s philanthropic engagement through increased board member participation, fundraising, and advocacy."

"Greater Diversity on Nonprofit Boards Can Lead to More Engaged Board Members, New Research Shows." Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Press Release 02/20/2018. "The Impact of Diversity: Understanding How Nonprofit Board Diversity Affects Philanthropy, Leadership, and Board Engagement." Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Press Release 02/20/2018.