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Nonprofit Board Diversity Isn’t A Checklist

What do you think of when you think about nonprofit board diversity? Diversity is about more than just “finding someone who checks a box.” it’s about bringing together people with different backgrounds and perspectives.

diverse nonprofit board

Why is Diversity Important?

When a board becomes homogenous, it can be difficult to notice things that are outside of the board’s general life experiences. A board that is all one gender may not notice things that are apparent to another gender. There are things that people are blind to, and as they say, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Nonprofit board diversity is about more than just providing blanket representation, or being able to say “we have a diverse staff.” Diversity is important in and of itself. Both companies and nonprofit boards often struggle with developing diversity in a truly inclusive and authentic way.

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The Danger of “Checking a Box”

A board that is just checking boxes isn’t valuing the benefits of diversity. The danger of checking a box is that diversity won’t be properly utilized. Instead, it will just be pursued for the sake of a label.

When checking a box, boards aren’t looking for people who have unique perspectives. Instead, they’re just looking for anyone who fits the classification of “diverse.” And ultimately, this isn’t going to lead to the board getting the best results.

In fact, this often leads to a lack of nonprofit board diversity. A board isn’t inclusive when it doesn’t value its composition, and board members will be able to tell when they were recruited for a “diversity” label rather than being truly valued.

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When these recruiting measure fail, it leads to a weaker group dynamic. Board members and staff won’t be able to see the value of the initiatives, and members brought onboard under these diversity initiatives may struggle to work within the board’s culture.

To protect against this, boards need to have the right culture, and need to foster an understanding among board members regarding the importance of diversity as a whole.

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The Major Reasons Nonprofit Board Diversity Fails

Diversity and inclusion strategies often fail. Either they don’t achieve the results that were desired, or they just alienate people rather than being effective. At best, many institutions find that their diversity protocols do very little.

Here are a few of the main reasons diversity strategies fail:

  • Not valuing differences. The entire point of diversity is that people have different perspectives, but many boards may instead want a more homogenous setup. Boards generally thrive on cooperation. They have the best intentions: people want to get along, and they want to agree. But this pushes back the actual value of inclusion.
  • Pursuing diversity over other qualifications. Diversity has to be matched with skill and acumen. Boards shouldn’t rush to arbitrarily fill their diversity slots, because this won’t yield positive results.
  • Looking for recognition. A nonprofit board diversity program has to be designed for the right reasons. If people are looking for recognition rather than truly respecting new viewpoints, it will be apparent.

Diversity is incredibly important to any nonprofit board. But board diversity can’t be a method by which boards attempt to prove a point or check a box. It’s important to recognize why organizations are eager to pursue diversity. Approaching this topic with thought and self-awareness will protect your board’s future.


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