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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

How nonprofit boards can successfully advance inclusion strategies

inclusion strategies

Boards have a crucial role to play in successfully advancing inclusion strategies at nonprofits. Each nonprofit serves a unique group of people with their own distinct needs. Therefore, it is imperative that every nonprofit have leadership who are well equipped to fulfill those needs, especially their board members. Like an electrical socket, boards serve as the catalyst for transferring power from its source (the nonprofit) to its desired destination: the stakeholders. It stands to reason then, that if a board adequately represents the stakeholders of that nonprofit, it may “plug in” well to properly transfer power to its stakeholders and thereby fulfill its mission with respect to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policy implementation. Thus, having a board that values and embodies DEI will be more successful at serving its community and advancing its mission.

Here are a few ways boards can advance inclusion strategies for success at nonprofits.

Develop a shared DEI vision

Boards need to invest time and effort to developing a shared DEI vision amongst leadership, along with shared vocabulary for what the organization believes “diversity, equity, inclusion” and other similar terms mean. The vision and vocabulary should be in line with the mission, vision, and values of the organization. This will provide context for and help guide any changes that need to be implemented. Initial research by BoardSource identified that “a failure to invest enough time on the front end—before moving to action—can result in a lack of shared understanding and commitment and foster tokenism.”

Implement a Culturally Sustainable Model 

After establishing shared vision and values for DEI, boards should assess where their organization is regarding this vision, where they want to be, and what changes need to be made to get there. This will require the involvement of the organization’s leadership in collecting relevant data. In addition to these assessments, boards should help guide education strategies concerning DEI and the mitigation of unconscious/implicit biases. Boards should implement a Culturally Sustainable Governance (CSG) model to help examine the leadership’s knowledge of equity, value of equity, motivation for equity, and sociopolitical consciousness. It is also essential for boards to set the example by taking part in proposed education trainings themselves.

Act consistently with DEI stated values 

Boards need to collaborate with their leadership in constructing a DEI plan. Boards should provide input when applicable regarding the creation or enhancement of DEI goals, policies, and procedures. This shared responsibility ensures the board keeps its leadership accountable in executing the DEI plan. Practically, this accountability can look like boards challenging its leadership to institute evaluation standards for how leaders, the CEO, and the board members themselves will be evaluated considering the shared vision for DEI.

Accurately represent stakeholders

Boards should diversify their members to properly represent their stakeholders. For some, this will mean tough conversations why they do not already represent the diverse community they serve. It is advised that “boards should critically examine their process for filling vacancies, especially the importance they assign to the financial capacity of board candidates.” There should be a greater emphasis on the candidate’s connection to the community rather than their connection to money. Not doing this will exclude several diverse candidates who could contribute greatly to the organization.

Advancing inclusion strategies at a nonprofit magnifies its impact by improving board governance approaches, better understanding community needs, promoting innovation, boosting retention, and driving institutional effectiveness. The implementation of these strategies is possible and will require the commitment of the organization’s board. By developing a shared vision for DEI, implementing the CSG model, acting consistently with DEI values, and accurately representing stakeholders, boards can assist nonprofits to better serve their mission and community.  

Keila Llanes is a 2023 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University and a member of the Nu Lambda Mu Nonprofit Honor Society. She works for ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians as their Administrative Assistant for Church Planting and Development. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for the past seven years and enjoys crafting and implementing improved organizational structures.

Image by Lillian Finley

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Keila Llanes


ASU Lodestar Center Blog