Fostering diversity is a journey, not a destination

By Jocelyn DeVance Taliaferro

Executive directors, members and the community at large often lament the lack of diversity on nonprofit boards of directors. All too often, organizations that serve non-majority populations do not have diverse representation on their boards.

Many boards desire diversity but often find it elusive and difficult to cultivate. But boards have some strategies they can use to recruit diverse members.

The organization, the board and the nominating committee must have a commitment to diversity.

It cannot be the latest trend or an empty mandate. It must be a reflection of the mission of the organization.

Nominating committees must be prepared to engage in hard work. They will have be diligent and think creatively. Tapping their friends and buddies will not foster the necessary change.

Nominating committees should use existing volunteers and constituents.  Many people currently engaged with the organization have a wealth of knowledge, skills, and abilities. They are often the best board members because of their existing familiarity and commitment to the organization.

If looking outside the organization, consider “raiding” other organizations. This strategy is particularly effective when used with membership organizations.  Individuals in membership organizations already have a commitment to public issues.

While board diversity is a goal, one must be careful to avoid tokenism. While each organization must start with one person, staying at one can be detrimental.

Small numbers often make it inhospitable for people of color. Therefore, it’s important to cultivate multiple representatives.

It also must be noted that fostering this type of diversity is time-consuming.  Decision-making and change take longer when the group is diverse.

Due to the heterogeneity of the group, multiple viewpoints and perspectives will come forth, necessitating additional time for deliberations and discussion.

Diversity promotes pluralism and understanding, and increases representation and richness. Representation is important in that the board gains credibility when it reflects the community being served.

Diversity also adds richness to the depth of discussion and ideas by providing an alternative paradigm in which decision-making can be fostered.

Jocelyn DeVance Taliaferro is an assistant professor in the department of social work at N.C. State University in Raleigh and is affiliated with the NCSU Institute for Nonprofits.

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