Report Urges Nonprofit Boards to Turn Diversity Awareness Into Action

Report Urges Nonprofit Boards to Turn Diversity Awareness Into Action

Although nonprofit board members are aware of the importance of diversity and inclusion, they lack the knowledge, skills, resources, and commitment needed to turn that awareness into action, a report from executive recruiting firm Koya Leadership Partners argues. 

Based on an online survey of board or executive committee members at more than a hundred nonprofits, the report, The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity in Nonprofit Boards of Directors (42 pages, PDF), found a significant gap between respondents' intention to increase diversity and the actions they've taken to do so. According to the report, only 24 percent of respondents self-identified as a person of color, while 61 percent said their board does not "adequately reflect the community/communities [the] organization serves" and 70 percent said they were not "content with the current level of diversity and inclusion represented." The report also found that 12 percent of respondents on low-diversity boards (in the bottom quartile for diversity) and 63 percent of those on medium-diversity boards (in the middle quartiles) said increasing diversity was not a key board objective. Among respondents whose boards do see diversity as a key objective, the reasons included "to increase creativity and problem solving," "because diverse skills and perspectives are valuable," and "to recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion."

Despite respondents' awareness of the benefits of a diverse board, the survey also found that 74 percent said their boards do not have a written statement or policy with respect to diversity and inclusion and 15 percent were unsure; only 34 percent said board diversity and inclusion is tied to the organization's overall strategic plan; and only 19 percent said their organizations provide board members with training around diversity and inclusion. In addition, 40 percent of respondents on low-diversity boards and 43 percent of those on medium-diversity boards said they have not implemented recruiting efforts designed to attract members of diverse backgrounds. When asked about obstacles to recruiting diverse board members, 51 percent cited "lack of access to qualified candidates," 21 percent cited "geography," and 18 percent cited "lack of resources."

According to the report, several survey participants mentioned that their boards prioritized fundraising responsibilities over increasing diversity. "However, the notion that there simply aren't people of color with both the passion and the means to be effective board members is untrue," the report's authors argue, before offering strategies for recruiting diverse members. Recommendations include developing a fully articulated strategy for creating a slate of candidates that includes an equal share of people of color; moving beyond current board members' immediate circle of contacts to identify prospective board members; and avoiding tokenism by recruiting multiple board members of color at the same time. 

"There is much that every board member can do, starting right now," the report concludes, "to help build a more representative, equitable, and inclusive organization and nonprofit sector."