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All I want is D-I-V-E-R-S-I-T-Y doesn’t register as smooth as “Respect”, Aretha Franklin’s 1967 hit, but today’s nonprofit sector could use the anthem.

Research tells a familiar story:

  • Only 8% of board members are people of color
  • Nearly 33% of nonprofit boards don’t have a single board member of color
  • Only 5% of philanthropic organizations are led by people of color
  • 74% of the nonprofit workforce are women, but only 45% are on boards.

Before nonprofits ask how they can diversify their boards, they should be clear about their motivation for change.

A weak reason to increase diversity is “because we’re supposed to.” A better reason is “because we believe that diversity opens our organization to unique perspectives that makes our nonprofit smarter, more inclusive, and better equipped to thrive among complex challenges and new opportunities.” Exalting diversity’s value is more difficult in a politically correct era where organizations rarely publicly denounce diversity.

But the nonprofit boards that don’t seek greater diversity within their board suffer. Homogenous boards are vulnerable to blind spots in decision-making and environmental cues. Opportunities that may be obvious to one ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or culture might be missed. Similarly a nonprofit board’s diversity speaks volumes about its level of inclusion. This impacts internal staff and volunteers who notice whether an organization’s leadership seeks out inclusivity in their actions or just talks about it in their annual report. The difference can be employing multi-faceted staff and volunteers who’re engaged or watching alienated members of staff seek other places to work or volunteer.

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