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How Nonprofits Can Create Inclusive Boards in a New Normal

Posted: 10/19/2021

Click here to read on NonProfitPRO.

By Donella Wilson and Derrick Coleman

The COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting impact on society, especially in the ways people live and work. Nonprofits faced significant obstacles over the past year, notably adjusting to remote work while still responding to the communities they serve.

Although diverse boards better serve their stakeholders and communities, recruiting and retaining these members continue to be challenging. Today, remote work appears to be the new normal, making recruiters pivot where and how they source talent. A hybrid environment provides a unique opportunity to increase board diversity. With the right tactics, boards will be able to improve their makeup while still fulfilling their mission.

Nonprofit Boards Face Many Challenges

The board of directors reflects an organization's culture, and its makeup should demonstrate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). But according to the nonprofit leadership report, "Leading With Intent: 2017 BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices," almost one in five CEOs said they were not prioritizing diversity in their recruitment strategy, even though they acknowledged their board was not as inclusive as it should be. The report's findings conclude that while boards may be slightly improving, they are still far from representing the communities they serve. Recruitment practices are not aligned with DEI goals, and 66% of executives were dissatisfied with their racial and ethnic makeup.

Yet diversity is more than race and ethnicity. According to the National Council of Nonprofits, there are fewer women in top positions at larger nonprofit organizations. In fact, despite three out of every four Americans working for nonprofits being women, men hold a disproportionate share of the highest-paid nonprofit jobs.

Koya Leadership Partners' "The Governance Gap: Examining Diversity and Equity in Nonprofit Boards of Directors" survey indicates that boards are well aware of the importance of inclusion, and they want to become more diverse. However, boards lack the skills, resources and genuine commitment required to turn that awareness into action.

Look Outside the Box To Recruit

Fortunately, there are a number of solutions nonprofits can implement to prioritize DEI. As demand for diverse talent increases, organizations must look beyond their normal channels to find qualified candidates, and the nature of a hybrid environment presents the perfect opportunity to do just that.

A University of Notre Dame study recently found that hiring managers are biased against candidates who live farther away from the office. With the barrier of geography removed for many positions due to the shift to remote working and evolution of technologies, nonprofits are now able to expand their search for board seats. This helps source, connect and appoint people from different backgrounds with unique perspectives and experiences.

Nonprofits should also expand their search criteria to include candidates who might not be straight from the C-suite to fill board openings. While experienced members offer wisdom, there is still a systemic barrier to promoting young professionals to these roles. Instead, they should define the necessary skill set. For instance, if the appointment calls for financial expertise, recruiters should look for someone with a background who can meet those requirements without the barrier of a determined amount of work experience.

Another impediment is to only consider candidates from traditional internal networks. According to Nonprofit Hub, roles are often filled through word-of-mouth. This further perpetuates the homogeneity of social circles to directly impact the potential diversity of candidates.

To reach underrepresented groups, nonprofits should evaluate recruiting tactics and processes. Consider bringing in external support to help source a diversified pool of candidates or networking with local or national chapters of professional associations. Many communities have resources that can help. For example, local United Way chapters, community foundations, Chamber of Commerce and faith communities are excellent networks.

Additionally, associations like African American Board Leadership Institute, the National Association of Asian American Professionals and the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement all have similar goals of strengthening nonprofit, public and private organizations through recruiting, training, networking and sourcing professionals in a broad range of roles. Building relationships with organizations like these will provide a direct channel to diverse talent with qualifications needed to fill positions.

The Future Is Full of Opportunity

The pandemic ushered in a new normal, but it has also brought about new opportunities and a collective action of inclusion. Not only is DEI essential to nonprofit success, but it also strengthens the ability to be attune with community needs. Inclusive workplaces lead to more equitable environments, opportunities to share ideas and cultures as well as promote acceptance. At the end of the day, inclusion wins.

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