Five Practical Steps to Diversify your Board of Directors

By JoAnn Yoshimoto, Senior Consultant

Before we plunge into the practical “how-to” ideas, let’s consider a few often-ignored questions: Why are we even having this conversation? Why does board diversity matter? Some of the answers might be philosophical, ethical, equity- or values-based, others might be quantifiable, statistical, evidence-based, but every nonprofit organization must find its own answers to these questions.

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The Role of the Nonprofit Board – Board Qualifications and Responsibilities

If you’ve ever been part of a Board, you know that people join Boards for any number of reasons – personal, professional, social, self-interest, dedication to the mission of the organization. There are many benefits to individuals for volunteering as a Board member, not least of which is feeling that you’re giving back.

But, whatever the reason for Board membership, it’s always good to have a reminder handy of what the primary reasons are for the Board’s existence, and what the roles are that Board members fill. And, whether you’re a new or seasoned Board member, it’s good to know what your organization expects from you – and to check in on that from time to time to make sure your expectations are aligned.

We’ve put together a list of qualifications and responsibilities of Boards from our own experience and the resources at BoardSource. We also included some of the ideas from Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards by Richard Chait, William Ryan and Barbara Taylor.

Let us know your thoughts on this list. Is there anything missing? What is your top choice for most important qualification or responsibility? Click the link below to see the full list.

Board Member Qualifications and Responsibilities

The Managing of the Nonprofit Board

It has been my good fortune to work with hundreds of boards across America in all sectors of the nonprofit world. Some boards are great, some not so great. Some boards function smoothly, some not so smoothly. And several organizations deliver very well on their missions despite their boards. So, what makes a great board? There are several characteristics, but one important aspect I wish to address today is board management. Boards that are well-managed and organized lead to engaged, high-functioning volunteers.

Earlier in my career, when I was the executive director of a hospital foundation, I served on 3 or 4 other boards outside the hospital. The experience taught me several lessons which helped me work with my own foundation board better.

As a board member I learned to show up for meetings – and noticed when meetings were not very effective. I began to observe my own foundation board’s full meetings and other committee meetings and whether they were exciting, engaging and filled with meaningful strategic discussion and purpose.

I learned to give financially commensurate with my ability and watched how the organization asked for my gift. Did they inspire me to do more, or attempt to guilt me for not doing enough? I learned not to guilt, but to inspire.

When looking at materials, did the organization overwhelm me with data and information, or underwhelm me with not enough information? I learned how to measure the right amount of information flow for each board member especially as it related to their respective role on a committee or as an officer.

I also watched how staff provided servant leadership, always prepared with information, or ready to seek it when it was requested. Being a board member elsewhere, made me a better staff member serving my board.

I learned the importance of hospitality and having a meeting place that was warm, welcoming and prepared for people with the right amount of chairs arranged for maximum participation of attendees. It was also good to have refreshments appropriate for the time of day and length of the meeting.

As our foundation staff grew over the years, I encouraged the staff to become board members in other organizations so that they might learn the same, and even better, lessons to enable them to serve their committee(s) with quality staff support.

Not-for-profit boards have an “ebb and flow.” Like people, they need to take time to refresh and renew, while still embracing the quality “tried and true” aspects of tradition and structure that may have brought success from the past. The nonprofit board insures that the quality of an organization is sustained for years and years.

Please respond or comment on other key characteristics you have observed that boards have (or should have) and how those characteristics can be fostered, discovered, created and/or renewed in nonprofit organizations.

I look forward to reading your ideas and insights.

All the best,

Tom