Having a diverse nonprofit board will shape the operations, strategies, financing, fundraising and marketing functions of an organization for the better. However, there is more to selecting a diverse board than choosing members of varying races, ages, genders and sexual orientations. To truly benefit from diversity, you must also consider the perspectives, experiences and assets potential members could bring to the table. As you prepare for nonprofit board recruitment, you should consider the following factors to develop a team that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Nonprofit boards are often comprised of mid-career to late-career professionals, as they bring management and life experiences that they can apply to the board and overall operations of the nonprofit. However, early-career professionals can also bring a lot to the table. What they may lack in professional experience, they can make up for in enthusiasm, optimism for change and knowledge of technology and generational trends that can improve the productivity of the organization, as well as its ability to connect with a younger audience.
Networks are the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations: they are a renewable source of funds, volunteers, beneficiaries and partnerships. Too often, though, boards are comprised of people that are essentially in the same networks. There is growing recognition in the value of weak ties to an individual’s network, and the same concept carries over to the network of a nonprofit board of directors. During nonprofit board member recruitment, it may be worthwhile to choose candidates with ties to different parts of the community. This could mean different sectors of the economy (education, manufacturing, etc.) or geographies (e.g., towns, counties or states). Consider any area with which it would be valuable to build ties and seek out board members who can open the right doors for your organization.
Working-class people have different perspectives on the world and how it works than do the upper class. The different perspectives of board members with blue and white-collar backgrounds can be valuable in reaching agreements on strategy (why we exist, who we are serving, who else we can serve and why) and marketing (how do we reach new groups of beneficiaries?). Nonprofits often receive criticism for not knowing their (typically blue-collar) beneficiaries well enough, and it may not be sufficient to perform simple surveys of targeted beneficiaries. Searching for members who represent these groups during nonprofit board recruitment can be an effective strategy to ensure that their perspectives are being considered and acted upon.
Association with the Cause
Passion for the cause is one of the more common attractors of people to a nonprofit organization, whether as board members, volunteers or funders. But, people have different reasons for that passion that can lead to varying means of contribution. For example, a prospective board member might have a strong desire to learn more about the cause or a personal experience via friends and family for which they desire to right a past wrong. He or she may also see a board position as a path into a new career. These different motivations can lead to a variety of contributions, all of which organizations should consider during nonprofit board member recruitment.
Political diversity in a nonprofit board can be hard to come by. For one, it’s common for people who are focused on a particular cause to have comparable political views, which can make it challenging to find members with a wide range of viewpoints. Two, even if you can find someone, getting him or her to fit in and feel comfortable being in the political minority is difficult, especially if expressing certain views could cause disagreements, if not arguments. However, bringing in people with opposing outlooks, or who better understand the other side, can be an effective strategy for securing a productive board that understands the full spectrum of their beneficiaries.
Diversity in personalities and work styles can be valuable, but challenging, in any workspace. Having a mix of introverts and extroverts, of detail-oriented team members and big-picture thinkers, or of type A’s and type B’s can make the team more enjoyable and productive. Make sure to look for these different personalities as you dive into nonprofit board member recruitment.
Recap of Strategies for Diverse Nonprofit Board Recruitment:
- Professional experience
- Economic diversity
- Association with the cause