Not-for-profit leaders, take a look at the Board of Directors. Who is there? Is it a table (or a Zoom call) of different types of people, with varied backgrounds and different races and cultures? Or is it a group of people who are more alike than they are different? Not-for-profit board diversity has several benefits, like attracting and retaining top Board talent, varied perspectives and cultural viewpoints, and a greater understanding of the community.
Despite understanding the foundational benefits, many not-for-profit leaders lack the know-how to transform their Boards into diverse, policy-enhancing advisors. These five best practices may seem like small changes or slight variations in approach but can help tip the scales toward a more diverse representation on the Board.
Is the Board’s required time commitments limiting the pool of eligible Board members? The organization could be excluding qualified individuals who are either working full-time, have small children at home, or simply don’t want a large-scale commitment on top of other demands. Suggestions are to expand the Board to include a greater number of members, thereby reducing each person’s time commitment. There is also the option of creating a secondary Board of Advisors to help with smaller fundraising efforts or events and leave the governance up to the Board of Directors. Then, there is the timing of Board meetings; make sure meetings are scheduled during times when most people can attend. That’s not necessarily the workday.
The crux of many not-for-profit boards is their ability to fundraise. This doesn’t mean that every Board member needs to be affluent or socialize in affluent networks. Too often, not-for-profit leaders are looking for a singular type of Board member. A young professional with a well-connected social media following can inspire and motivate change – or event attendance, awareness, or dollars – in different ways than a seasoned executive. Both have value, and both types of people can help a Board meet its goals.
Something as simple as changing the words used for fundraising can help attract a new type of Board member. Words like ‘philanthropy’ or ‘donate’ tend to imply wealth connotations. On the other hand, words like ‘partnering’ or ‘supporting’ open up the possibilities of Board members who can give to the organization in more ways than just financially. Consider the following options that ‘partnering’ or ‘supporting’ can create: A catered meal from their restaurant business or a food truck; Space for meetings; Web design services for three hours a week; or Printing services. These contributions are meaningful and create more opportunities to work with the not-for-profit.
Consider the company that is kept. One way to create a more diverse Board is to support or partner with diverse groups. Not only is this an excellent way to reach new territory, but new relationships can also be cultivated … not to mention support another organization or cause in the process.
Lean on the Right Companies
Some not-for-profits have realized great success in partnering with companies that have an interest in their mission. Sometimes, these organizations can also offer up the help of their HR person or diversity representative. These connections can refer eligible employees to the Board, offer their own expertise, and may even allow their employees to serve the not-for-profit on company time.
In the meantime, not-for-profit leaders can start holding conversations about diversity with current Board members. Evaluate the Board’s strengths and weaknesses to better identify the types of individuals whose background and experience would be a good fit. Work with the Board to set clear diversity goals, and make sure that when diverse recruits are added, it’s a welcoming, engaging atmosphere.
A great Board can be the difference between a successful organization and one that is forced to shut its doors. Having highly engaged and diverse Board members can help your organization take advantage of new opportunities, manage risk more effectively, and lean into the changes happening in your community. Contact the Not-for-Profit team at PBMares for guidance on how to create a more effective Board of Directors and other tips on not-for-profit management and finances.