Chicago Nonprofits Struggle to Diversify Their Boards

While many nonprofit organizations in the Chicago area have taken steps to recruit more women and persons of color to their boards, their efforts to date have yielded modest results in a sector historically dominated by white males, Crain's Chicago Business reports.

It's not unusual to hear nonprofit leaders in the city argue that many qualified candidates from underrepresented groups are already oversubscribed, or "boarded up." But John Rowe, who chairs the Field Museum board, dismisses that idea, saying the problem is more a function of "everyone's list look[ing] the same." The Field has tried to get around that problem by sometimes relaxing the $50,000-a-year financial contribution it asks of board members for less-well-heeled candidates.

Grantmakers also are getting into the act. The Chicago Community Trust, one of the biggest funders of nonprofits in the region, has denied grants in the past to nonprofits whose boards it considered to be too homogenous. Still, a number of factors continue to hamper progress on the board diversity front. They include the fact that most nonprofit leaders tend to recruit people who look like themselves, said Edith Falk, chair of Campbell & Co., a Chicago-based consulting firm. Others look to corporate C suites for board candidates — and in Chicago, roughly three-quarters of all corporate executives are white men.

To help expand that candidate pool, Chicago United, an advocacy organization that works to promotes multiracial leadership in business and advance parity in economic opportunity, launched an online database called BoardLink in 2008. In the four years since, the database has played a role in the placement of thirty-seven minority business leaders in board positions.

It's a start, says Andrea Zopp, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, which helps to maintain the service. But she continues to be surprised that more nonprofits aren't using the service. "We certainly could be more of a source of referrals," said Zopp, who serves on five nonprofit boards. "We're in Chicago — it's a great city that has a diverse pool of talent and we just have to access it."

Lisa Bertagnoli. "Why White Men Still Dominate Nonprofit Boards." Crain's Chicago Business 11/05/2012.