Unfortunately, we don’t always embrace people who differ from ourselves.
While serving as nonprofit board members, the same behavior may also apply. We may shy away from “going broad” when recruiting new members. Board membership “cut from the same cloth”, so to speak, inevitably narrows a nonprofit’s outreach and access to innovative ideas. As Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so,” that is dangerous!   

Why is it that we tend to invite mainly those in our social circle versus connecting with new acquaintances? Is this just human nature? Yes, of course! We’re drawn to those most familiar to us. But should we expect more from ourselves and volunteer engagement? Yes, because we otherwise miss out on interesting relationships, new energy, and fresh ideas for the benefit of our mission.  

Although differences exist between individuals,

at our core, everyone can understand

the importance and urgency of a cause.

A well-run, diverse board translates to innovative opportunities and big impact on nonprofit outcomes.  

This blog post explores the necessary components for building a board that not only represents multiple constituents, but also embraces a mix of talents, passions and perspectives.   

A Definition of Diversity

1. Emily Davis, author of Fundraising and the Next Generation, writes that diversity might refer to “gender, stakeholder, and constituent representation, skills and expertise and ethnicity just to name a few…” She continues further by explaining the importance of including the “Next Generation”:

“It is a fair assumption that many Gen X and Millennial individuals may not have the years of experience that other board members may have, but that can provide an advantage in terms of sharing new concepts- moving away from the ‘this is how we have always done it’ kind of attitude and opening up new ideas and access to donors.”

Discussion around the “big picture” composition of a board is necessary and especially compelling when considering the inclusion of younger members.

Focusing purely on diversity, however, does not guarantee board success.

Diversity in and of itself is not the goal. 

Make sure to identify what’s needed to carry out the strategic plan.  Examine the objectives and back into the required skills.  Look for individuals with actual experience in addition to the professional title. Jan Masaoka, of Blue Advocado, writing for the Nonprofit Resource Center, suggests asking the following two questions when examining board recruitment needs:

  1. What are the three most important things for our board to accomplish this year?
  2. “Do we have the right people on the board to make that happen?”
  3. Create a matrix that identifies or considers:
  • The skills and talents needed to run the board’s business;
  • Different constituent/stakeholder groups (such as donors, volunteers, clients, vendors, corporate, foundations, collaborative partners)
  • Gender, race and age

Here are some links to various nonprofit recruitment grids. When creating your own, think in and “out of the box”!

Nonprofit Center

Richard Male & Associates

Association of Fundraising Professionals

Core Working Values   

Admittedly without some savvy and strong leadership skills, different perspectives and life experiences can hinder communication and the smooth operation of a nonprofit board. To work cohesively as a group, regardless of its diversity, requires defining the values for working together. What matters to the group?

When there’s a strong commitment to maintaining shared values, the expression and respect of different perspectives will flourish.  Shared common values also will strengthen relationships between board members and contribute to a team orientation. Invite new members with an eye towards these working values.

The Champions- it’s own category

As discussed in previous blogs all board members need to know how to passionately share a nonprofit’s story. Admittedly some people are just better at engaging others and can’t contain their enthusiasm. Make sure to include such “Champion” members on your board. Of course all members should feel some level of excitement about their board contributions.

A Dynamic Collective

Tom Suddes of The Suddes Group bemoans “Collective Boards”, those that “end up listening to Committee Reports and rubber stamping financial gobbledygook.” Instead he recommends that “boards include a diverse, ‘eclectic’ mix of entrepreneurs, business and community leaders” who might “scale” and “grow impact”. Each board has its own priorities and requirements that can only be met by creating and constantly cultivating a dynamic collective of diverse individuals focused on solving the problems at hand!

A dynamic collective is found in board diversity. Evaluate your own board on this dimension. Doing so may trigger a search for new talent.