How Increasing Board Diversity Helps Win the Fight for Donors, Dollars and Volunteers

Nonprofits are fighting more for donors, dollars, volunteers and even board members than ever before. Competition in these areas has heated up as nonprofits are reevaluating their business models to meet the needs of an ever-changing community. Is it any wonder that some questions surrounding nonprofit boards are “What are the benefits to board diversity?” and “How can we increase diversity on our board?”


Diverse perspectives lead to new ideas and innovation, better risk management and stronger connections with a wider variety of donors, volunteers, employees and community partners. Different types of diversity are needed by different nonprofits. Obvious diversity needs tend to be in the areas of gender or race and ethnicity — these areas need immediate attention. But race and gender are not the only diversity from which boards can benefit.


Adding diversity to the board means seeking directors of a different age, socio-economic background, sexual orientation, thinking style, skill set, etc.—not just a different gender or race.


What if the decision makers for your grant applications changes and no one on your board or leadership team has ever worked with Procurement or Government before? What if your board will be making real estate decisions, but lacks anyone with those skills? What if the majority of board members lack finance, technology or business operations skills? The answer to these questions: Determine what competencies are needed on the board and search out individuals  with those skills within your volunteer or donor base.


Yet there are even more questions to consider that go beyond skill-based needs. What if your board includes members all above or below a certain age? What if your organization has no tech sector donors? Chances are, you have no tech sector board members. And what if your organization has no Millennial donors or volunteers? Then Millennials who are also community leaders need to be a target group for your board. As new issues and challenges surface, your board needs to be able to face the challenges.


Here are six steps to consider when increasing the diversity on your board.


1. Determine what goal or goals will be accomplished by adding specific diversity to your board. Some boards want to reflect the community they serve or the diversity of the organization’s employees, for example.


2. Determine the competencies (skills and behaviors) new board members will need to help accomplish the goal(s) and determine a process for screening for those skills.


3. Survey current board members for their competencies as well as their diversity characteristics (age, race, religion, veteran status, etc.) and conduct a gap analysis. Expand the typical focus from CEO experience and financial expertise to include a full range of competencies as well as the experiential, demographic and personal attributes that will enhance needed perspective. Ensure that the nominating committee seeks individuals with needed competencies and experiences.


4. Prioritize effective communication and collaboration skills. Do not simply add a female or African American director because they enable you to “check the box.” Seek directors with a successful track record of building support for difficult goals while working with a variety of constituencies. Successful directors today not only bring specific skills and experiences to the table, but stand out because they are listened to and finds ways to fit in.


5. Expand the talent pool beyond the C-suite. Many different levels of professionals can provide needed perspective, experience and competencies.


6. Unite board members through meaningful boardroom standards and goals. A thorough director evaluation process is critical if a board is to evolve beyond being “clubby” or just “good people.”


Related article: Women Leaders: Nonprofit Boards Need You!


Diversity of perspectives helps to prevent “groupthink” and enhances innovation. Diversity overall enables a board to reflect a changing donor base and can increases a board’s effectiveness and efficiency, while ensuring the voices of all are considered in the decision making process. Most importantly, diverse board members enable nonprofits to attract more diverse donors, volunteers and even more capable board members. And that translates into dollars and increased impact.


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Article written by Nancy S. Ahlrichs, Chief Talent Officer for United Way of Central Indiana, who has served on a variety of for profit and nonprofit boards.