Boards are governing bodies charged with the critical responsibility of overseeing an organization or company. While no two boards are exactly alike, the most successful boards share certain traits — with diversity being one.
What is board diversity, and why is it so important? Today we’re taking a look at why diverse boards matter — both from an organizational perspective, and an individual one.
From the Organizational Perspective
- Diverse set of competencies and perspectives yields better performance overviews and decision-making.
- Higher buy-in from stakeholders at all levels (staff, clients, funders, partners) due to the better decisions that considered many perspectives.
- Greater network for fundraising.
- Better able to respond to risks and challenges (more of them are raised early on, and there are more resources to address them).
By diversity, we are talking about demographics (age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation), experiential (skills, background, industry, approach, network), and personal (beliefs, passion, energy, communication/work style). By having a well balanced mix of each of these on your board, the leadership will be able to engage in more expansive thinking to guide your organization.
To build a diverse board, follow the three steps below. Start by conducting a board self-assessment, map out the skills and traits you require to diversify your board, and then begin to recruit new board members.
Step 1: Conduct a board diversity assessment (develop a Board Profile or Board Snapshot)
The self-assessment should cover a wide range of topics, including understanding the mission and programs, relationships and communication style with other board members and staff, engagement level, demographics, experience and skills. Here’s a great link to several board self-assessments. We recommend administering the self-assessment online so it’s easier to tabulate results and replicate each year. This Board Source template is also a great place to start.
Step 2: Identify the skills and diversity needed to fulfill your organization’s goals and/or strategic plan.
For example, perhaps your goal is to add additional locations in the next few years. It might be helpful to have a real estate agent on the board. If your goal is to tighten up financial performance, seek out a CPA or financial adviser. If you’re trying to increase your marketing or development efforts, bring on individuals with communications and fundraising skills. The ideal candidate possesses several skills you’re looking for, but you might want someone who has deeper expertise in each area, depending on your situation.
Step 3: Recruit new board members who can fill those competencies.
Create a process to identify, nominate, consider, recruit, and approve the candidates. On some boards, this work is led by a Nomination Committee. On other boards, the entire board is involved throughout the entire process. The board chair should be heavily involved.
Consider what level board member you want to engage with. Depending on the size and maturity of both the board and organization and the goals you’re trying to achieve, for example, lower-level positions might be more appropriate than executives and directors. Get more resources on recruiting, the best and worst ways to recruit, changing the board from the inside, and creating sample board member job postings.
The recruitment process should be ongoing to ensure a full pipeline of good candidates to rotate onto your board. Board members and staff should be trained to recognize good candidates from among volunteers and their personal networks, and begin to invite them to events, and educate them about your organization’s work. Eventually, when the time is right, invite them to join a board or board committee. You might even need to create your own Board Development Plan. Remember that each board seat is valuable real estate; only recruit strong candidates who bring relevant skills and are passionate about contributing to the organization’s work.
A key factor in keeping a diverse board running smoothly is having a good board orientation. Make sure the board member knows about the organization, board dynamics, and expectations before joining the board. The board president, nomination and/or executive committee, and other board members should make sure the board member feels welcome and comfortable — especially for more inexperienced board members or board members who may have greater differences than the existing board members.
From the Individual Perspective
It’s personally beneficial to serve on different boards, either simultaneously or consecutively, because of the different experiences and personal and professional growth it affords. You’ll have the opportunity to see how different board chairs govern, you’ll get to network with different circles, and you’ll be in a better position to cross-pollinate good ideas and best practices to the organizations you’re involved with. So, if you’re inexperienced or unsure about whether to join a board because you might be the only/youngest/person of color/woman/LGBT/community person on the board, we say, Own It! Lean in. Dive in. Get out of your comfort zone.
For more on fundraising boards, read this and check back on our blog for a post about board engagement.