The desire to build a diverse board goes far beyond rectifying historical inequities and fulfilling your obligations to the community. Today, an inclusive board is necessary to ensure your organization has the skills and insight to thrive in the modern not-for-profit environment — identifying opportunities for growth and success and capitalizing on potential funding.
But just recognizing a need for diversity doesn’t make it happen. Building a diverse board requires a mindful, dedicated approach. Here are four ideas to help you cultivate diversity on your board:
Before you define diversity for your organization, it’s best to begin with an understanding of your current board’s strengths and weaknesses. Many boards don’t talk regularly about areas of potential improvement. Self-assessment is a powerful tool for boards, and doing so regularly makes it less daunting.
Try a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis. Break down the assessment into your major governance areas—strategy, fundraising, advocacy, performance, and diversity. Making diversity part of the normal conversation is key to more open discussions about next steps.
2. Define success
Does your board understand and embrace the broad concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I)?
These three ideas work together to create a welcoming and opportune environment. Diversity is a range of differences, while equity covers fair treatment, advantage, and access. Inclusion means cultivating a culture of respect, support, and value. In combination, DE&I fosters the hope that board members will share their different backgrounds, ideas, and opinions in a fully engaged, positive manner in the governing process.
3. Recruit with intent
Simply checking the box on gender and racial diversity will not provide the long-term benefits your board needs. You want great directors with the skill sets and talents your organization demands.
Networking is a must, of course, but your board must also take steps to recruit more effectively and broadly. One idea is to look for candidates below the C-level. Seek smart up-and-comers who can add unique voices to the board. Also, depending on your current board make-up, adding retirees or active executives can open the door to more diverse candidates.
Finally, you must embrace a diversity succession plan, now. A proactive approach will give you time to replace board members with candidates who meet your diversity goals.
4. Take a long-view approach
Recognize that there are no quick fixes for developing a diverse, equitable, and inclusive board. It’s a process that changes the board culture and not just the demographics. With this in mind, it’s smart to take a long view and evaluate your progress often.
It’s critical to make connections in the community and establish relationships with other private and public entities that represent and serve underrepresented groups. There’s no need to be secretive. Being forthright with your desire to improve your board’s diversity and soliciting advice on how to make it a reality will make it easier to recruit.
These efforts are no longer optional, they are crucial to the long-term success of your organization.
Dembo Jones’ dedicated not-for-profit team has expertise in recruiting and maintaining an engaged, connected, diverse board. Contact us today.