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3 reasons to prioritize diversity on your nonprofit board

April 11, 2021
A group of diverse board members gather around a table with phones and laptops.

Diversity is more than just a buzzword or a politically correct action, and it’s about more than just appearances. Having a diverse board is essential for nonprofit organizations as it provides a variety of perspectives, experiences, and networks, all of which make your organization more effective. Particularly for small nonprofits, diversity ensures that your board doesn’t all come from the same pool of contacts. This fosters a healthy, vibrant representation of the community you serve.

Recruiting diverse board members leads to increased diversity within your organization, from staff to members to donors. When an organization’s leadership reflects the greater community—in age, gender, race, or class—the community feels as though the organization can understand them and therefore develops greater trust in that organization. Read on to learn more about the values your nonprofit should prioritize in creating your organizational culture and the benefits of diversifying your board.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)

To fully embrace diversity, you need more than just people of different backgrounds on your nonprofit’s board. It is essential to create a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at your organization. These values include:

  • Diversity: embracing different backgrounds, including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, language, socioeconomic status, disability, and religion. Prioritizing diversity strengthens your nonprofit by providing the organization with a wider variety of perspectives.
  • Equity: equal representation. Embracing equity helps your organization challenge biases overt and implicit, expose harassment, and confront discrimination.
  • Inclusion: welcoming all people and perspectives. Incorporating inclusion grows healthy organizations, inspires creativity and collaboration, and increases empathy.

Many nonprofits and boards are eagerly committing to DEI as a means of working from within to promote change. For a deeper look into how to incorporate DEI into the core values of your nonprofit, the National Council of Nonprofits provides several helpful DEI resources.

Reasons to diversify your nonprofit board

The benefits of diversifying your nonprofit board range from tactical to financial to personal. They can be obvious or discreet, but their impact is undeniable.

Expand your network

When was the last time you gathered a room of lawyers, artists, accountants, consultants, and retirees to discuss a common goal? If all of your board members come from the same general background, chances are they run in the same social or professional circles as well. This means your donors and volunteers will come from the same pool, creating a homogeneous atmosphere.

When you diversify your board, you gain the benefit of myriad backgrounds dedicated to your nonprofit. You’ll also have access to their networks, allowing you to connect with individuals that you might otherwise have never met. As your board members have both leadership and fundraising responsibilities to your nonprofit, having a larger network can prove invaluable.

Enrich decision making

The homogeneous atmosphere mentioned above can be detrimental to decision-making. A nonprofit board that agrees on everything eventually may become unwilling to open its mind to other perspectives.

Through diversity, we gain unique viewpoints that expand our outlook. Diverse groups more closely scrutinize each other’s actions, process facts more carefully, and are more innovative. This is because diversity creates deeper conversations, leading to more thoughtful decisions.

Board members will consider each other’s perspectives carefully, resulting in new ways of examining problems. Furthermore, having a diverse board can lead to a more diverse supporter base, which can increase community collaboration.

Create generational impact

Many nonprofits are thinking about cultivating the next generation of donors. But what about the next generation of board members? A healthy, motivated board has term limits, usually two to three years of service. Diversifying your current board will create a ripple effect throughout your entire organization. A multi-generational board attracts new supporters and advocates to your work. Cultivating younger supporters will benefit your nonprofit for generations to come.

Diversifying your nonprofit board

The first step to diversifying your nonprofit board is to examine your board’s current demographic breakdown—a recent DEI study done by Boardsource found that 78% of nonprofit board members in the United States were white.

Take the time to reflect and discuss how you’re creating a culture that embraces DEI from within. It may be a sensitive conversation to have at your next board meeting, but your nonprofit will be stronger for it. Your donors and the greater community will also appreciate the measures you take to prioritize DEI.

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