Ten Tips to Diversify Nonprofit Boards

Ten Tips to Diversify Nonprofit Boards


  1. Make a public commitment to diversity

    A public commitment to diversity can help attract new board members from under-represented ethnic and racial groups. This commitment can be expressed in ways that emphasize how diversity will help the organization better serve its clients.

  2. Take a diversity audit of your board

    Start by collecting demographic information about your current board, as well as applicants to future openings. Some people worry this is illegal or discriminatory – it is not. Collecting information on racial and ethnic characteristics is permitted if it is to address the under-representation of visible minorities and other historically under-represented groups.

  3. Focus on the skills the board needs to meet its strategic priorities.

    Diversity efforts are intended to strengthen the organization as a whole. The board must find the financial, legal and management skills it needs to do this. But it also shouldn’t underestimate the importance of understanding and reflecting under-represented groups. Fortunately, finding both sets of skills is possible – there is a large and talented pool of immigrants and visible minorities in the region from which to draw.

  4. Set explicit goals in the selection process and develop a strategy

    An organization may determine that at least half of new board members should be from an under- represented group. It is important to build diversity into the entire recruitment process. For example, design a transparent application process and consider using non-traditional outreach methods such as DiverseCity onBoard. Also consider diversity in the screening methods and interview questions used.

  5. Recognize a variety of experiences and expertise

    Often boards think and act alike because members share similar life experiences. Valuing volunteer and work experience gained abroad, as well as leadership gained in ethnic organizations or small community groups is important. Also look at the volunteers and committees of your organization and whether they are diverse. If not, increase the diversity of these groups. These can be important training grounds for future board members.

  6. Aim to create a critical mass

    Research has shown that there is strength in numbers. While there is debate in the literature about what the minimum threshold should be, it has been suggested that once there are three members on a board that share similar characteristics, these individuals will feel more comfortable sharing a dissenting opinion.

  7. Encourage diverse board members to take on additional responsibilities

    Organizations should ask new and diverse board members to sit on or lead special committees and projects. These opportunities should not be limited to those dealing with diversity issues. This inclusion will encourage full engagement and commitment to the organization, and will improve board retention.

  8. Train all board members on diversity issues

    Orientation, mentoring and training for board members is essential to a well-functioning board. This should include helping board members to better understand the various access points for providing input such as contacting senior staff, participating in events organized by the organization, and participating in board committees. It should also include training on the importance of diversity and on the skills required to achieve cultural competence.

  9. Mainstream diversity in the organization’s activities

    A board should engage staff to align diversity efforts to the organization’s mission, mandate and activities. All activities should be evaluated to determine how well they support diversity efforts. New programs and services can be evaluated using a diversity and equity lens.

  10. Measure results of diversity by its impact

    Inclusion is about being sensitive to differences and transforming organizations to be more effective, responsive, transparent and accountable to the community.  It is on this impact that the success of diversity efforts should be measured.