• Power Board Diversity by Linking it with Strategy

Could it be that long ago? After the 2012 elections, I took to the La Piana blog to speak about the need to diversify nonprofit boards and build on the momentum of political gains made at the time by communities of color, specifically the Latinx community. But the data shows that my call for diversity did not work then, and while today there is a stronger call in relation to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) the results are still lagging. Don’t get me wrong, people are trying; over the past year I have worked with a number of boards who have prioritized DEI initiatives—but progress is slow. 

I understand that all change is hard and changing the culture of your board can be daunting. I also know that many organizations fear taking the first step and making a misstep, like bringing someone in as the only person of color and isolating them or making them feel tokenized, or failing to set them up for success in meeting the needs of the organization. The fear of change is real, but if we as a sector truly value DEI as more than talk, we need to walk the walk. 

One pitfall is that often organizations take on “DEI initiatives” apart from their other work. Such change does not need to be—and indeed shouldn’t be—made an isolation. Instead, consider how taking action on your commitment to DEI can help update and advance your entire organizational strategy, not just make your board more diverse. 

The following are common roadblocks we find as organizations grapple with diversity work, and some initial solutions to consider that will help connect DEI efforts with your broader strategy: 

 Roadblock Critical Questions  Discussions to Consider   
“Adding diversity will affect our ability to fundraise, or may put someone on the spot.” • What proportion of your board role is fundraising?
• Do you offer multiple ways for members to contribute and participate?
• What else would you like board members to focus on? 

Fundraising is important, but there’s much more to a sustainability strategy. Maybe your organization needs to look at different strategies: e.g., are you in position to create an earned income venture? If so, maybe you need entrepreneurial individuals who can help in this arena and not just traditional fundraising.
“What if we don’t get the right skills due to prioritizing diversity, and upset our current board members?” • What are the skills that you think you need?
• Might there be skills you don’t know you need—like do you need to better connect with your community?
• Could new board members bring both kinds of skills?  
A little upset isn’t a bad thing if it means positive change. If you want diversity, it needs to be an imperative, and you need to work through the discomfort. Probe assumptions and ask for openness to exploring unexpected ways that new members will benefit the organization and strengthen your strategy.
“We can’t find the right pool of candidates.”
• Are you extending beyond your networks?
• Are you going to the same pool of diverse candidates as everyone else?
• Are you considering what/who you really need?
If you’re just thinking about checking boxes, you’re going about this all wrong. Again, don’t just look at this as board diversity: consider the opportunity new board members can bring to improving your strategy. Look beyond the “go-to” pool of board candidates to the whole range of talent that can help you address key strategic needs and priorities.

Using strategy as a lens for board diversity efforts may seem like a disconnect, but if you consider that setting your organizational strategy is a fundamental duty of the board—your strategy should also inform how you identify and engage new board members.


Tags: board development, diversity, organizational culture, strategy

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