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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Strategies to diversify nonprofit boards to yield success

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Diversity and inclusion are not new terms for the nonprofit sector. They have been brought to light in recent times, however, due to the changing demographics of the Unites States. Between 1980 and 2020, the working white population has declined from 83% to 63%, while the minority working population has doubled. Unfortunately, in the nonprofit boardroom, this change has yet to be reflected.

According to the Impact of Diversity study, nonprofit boards are 78.6% white, 7.5% African American and 2.6% Asian American. Board diversity could lead to increased innovation and creativity. Experts feel a primary reason for this issue not being prioritized is related to the fear of redistribution of power. It is demanding of an organizational cultural change that will adopt inclusivity in all aspects, both internally and externally. Strategies to diversify nonprofit boards can be divided into three broad phases.

Phase 1: Triple A’s - awareness, attitude and action

Developing awareness and sensitivity towards diverse voices is an initial step in the process, but not the easiest. This awareness may need practical steps such as diversity trainings and workshops to build empathy and understanding for the need of the community. To bring these values to action a task force can be set up to prioritize the process.

Phase 2: Implementation

This phase starts with evaluating current board composition using a board matrix. It allows us to see what the current diversity and skill is set of the board. Gathering information and involving stakeholders is an important practice to set goals and develop a recruitment strategy. A nominating committee can be setup to prioritize recruitment. It is important to seek individuals outside personal networks. Other avenues include the community served by the organization, volunteer networks and social platforms like LinkedIn. Once recruited and interviewed an onboarding process can be established. The onboarding can include both new and existing board members to reiterate value for diverse voices, accountability, and to promote inclusive behaviors. There is no doubt there will be financial- and time-related challenges along the way. Strong leadership will need to be involved to overcome these challenges. It is a good idea to have specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based - SMART - goals. Putting the goals to action will be the final step in this phase and it will take time as it is a process rather than a program.

Phase 3: Evaluate and celebrate

It is important to evaluate the practices of the newly formed diverse board to draw attention to the successes and strategize to overcome the challenges along the way. Celebrating those who incorporated diversity and inclusion behaviors is a great way to motivate others on board. Finally, it is also recommended to mobile the learning from the experience with other organizations as it will help motivate systematic changes in the nonprofit sector.

Diversity and inclusion build social capital among constituents and has the potential for long-term impacts.

Syeda Hussaini is a 2021 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. She is a registered dietitian and senior program coordinator at Olive Community Services Inc., serving multicultural seniors in Southern California. Syeda is passionate about working with the elderly. She loves to travel with her family and learn about people and places.

Syeda Hussaini


ASU Lodestar Center Blog