The events of the past fourteen months have underscored how critical a role diversity and inclusion play in all areas of our lives. As not-for-profit organizations begin to find themselves on the other side of the pandemic, organizations should consider whether their boards and committees represent the diversity of the communities they serve. Having a diverse and inclusive board provides greater exposure to different perspectives, helps the board generate new ideas, and provides more opportunities to form a deeper connection to the community.
The first step to attaining a more diverse board is to conduct a self-assessment and to set goals for expanding the profile of the board in certain areas. Provide clarity on what you are hoping to achieve by assembling a more diverse board, and describe how your goals relate to your organization’s mission. Every action that a not-for-profit takes should be in support of its mission, and assembling a board is no different. Organizations should incorporate these measures in their strategic plan and document their commitment to diversity and inclusion, such that the messaging is clear to all who may be interested in the organization; whether potential board members, donors, grantors, constituents, or the general public.
Once the organization has determined the “why,” it can shift focus to the “how.” This process should begin with an inventory of your board, noting the unique strengths and skills of its members to determine if there are any gaps or desired skills not readily on hand to help continue driving the organization’s objectives. When evaluating the demographic of the board, the organization should avoid focusing on filling specific quotas. Diversity and inclusiveness are far more complex than quotas allow; the organization should strive to achieve gender and racial diversity, but should also consider a variety of economic and educational backgrounds. A thoughtful collection of perspectives will help enhance the organization and find new ways for it to best serve the community and constituents.
If, during the evaluation, the board finds its demographics to be largely homogenous, it should examine its recruiting practices and determine if unconscious biases may be affecting its selection process. While unconscious bias isn’t necessarily deliberate or malicious, it can lead to potentially unfavorable decisions. One factor that may be at play is “similar-to-me” bias, where those who are recruiting new board members are focused on people that are like themselves. Instead, consider broadening your horizons to include potential targets who different from you in age, gender, gender identity, race, religion, socioeconomic status or other factors.
There are many factors to consider when incorporating diversity and inclusion within a not-for-profit board. Creating a diverse team is not only the right thing to do, research has shown that it may improve an organization’s performance, culture, creativity, relationships, and overall results.
The following are some considerations for recruiting new board members:
- Reach out to the community to gauge interest in volunteering within the organization or joining a committee. This is a great way to introduce someone to your organization so they can become familiar with your mission and core values before committing to becoming a board member. It also provides an opportunity to get to know this person to determine whether they would be a good representative for the organization.
- Contact industry groups, chambers of commerce, and trade associations, such as the state societies for CPAs or bar associations. These groups can help connect the organization to individuals with various backgrounds and skill sets.
- Be sure to include the next generation of leaders in your community. Millennials generally seek to pursue meaningful work and often look to make a positive impact on their community. Multigenerational boards can provide opportunities for different generations to learn from one another. Those members with more experience can provide deep institutional knowledge, whereas millennials can offer a fresh perspective.
- Effectively utilize technology. As businesses and organizations begin to re-open, it is likely that we will see more of a hybrid model in which there is a balance between in-person and remote activities. Therefore, organizations should consider continuing to allow for board members to virtually attend board meetings.
The final step in incorporating diversity and inclusion into your not-for-profit board is recognizing that this is not a one-and-done process; continued monitoring and evaluation should be part of your overall strategy. Meaningful change in board composition, dynamics, and culture requires time and commitment. Board members should refer back to the goals they set at the start of the process and determine whether those goals are being met. Maintaining an open dialogue is critical to ensure continued success.
Citrin Cooperman is a nationally recognized, full-service CPA firm, currently ranked in the U.S. top 25, with a dedicated Not-for-Profit Practice. The firm offers assurance, tax, and business advisory services to help clients remain competitive in today’s market.
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