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How to Diversify Your Nonprofit's Board of Directors

For many nonprofit leaders, building inclusive and diverse workforces is a top priority. It’s a focus that takes on added urgency for the boardroom.

Diversity on the board of directors has been linked to a range of benefits, such as a broader organizational network, better discernment and decision-making, and deeper community insights. Incorporating a greater variety of voices, backgrounds, and perspectives into your executive committee can better equip your nonprofit to understand the needs of the community it serves — while expanding your network in important new directions. 

Why board diversity matters for nonprofits

A study published in the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly in 2023 concluded that board diversity has a positive impact on nonprofits. The researchers also found that the board chair’s diversity has “considerable influence due to their close interaction with the CEO and fellow board members in governing the operation.”

While progress is being made in the area of board diversity, it’s clear there is more work to be done. A research review by Nonprofit Quarterly notes that while nonprofit boards have achieved better equity in terms of gender and age, other dimensions of diversity like disability, race, and ethnicity show significant room for improvement.

This can lead to major disconnects with the communities these organizations work with. For example, 16% of U.S. nonprofits that primarily serve people of color had all-white boards in 2021.

Nonprofits can leverage a few practical strategies to build and retain a diverse board. Here are three areas to consider prioritizing.

Three tips for diversifying your nonprofit’s board of directors

1. Assess your board and identify gaps.

Building a more diverse and impactful board begins with an honest evaluation of your nonprofit’s current state. What voices are not represented on your board of directors that should be? Think about skills and capabilities you might be missing, as well as your board’s demographics. 

Arriving at a clear list of gaps and opportunities can help you be more intentional and thoughtful while recruiting nonprofit board members. For example, rather than simply posting a board opening and selecting from the candidates who apply, your team might use LinkedIn to proactively identify professionals from a variety of backgrounds who have the specific skills and experiences you’re hoping to add to your board. 

2. Diversify your recruitment network.

Tapping into the professional networks of your existing team can sometimes be a fast method for finding talent. However, there are downsides to the referral system, especially if your board lacks diversity today.

As one article in the Philanthropy News Digest notes, depending on current board members to recommend new prospective board members means that “new board members are likely to be a lot like current… board members in terms of race, socioeconomic status, and other demographic characteristics.”

To avoid leaning too heavily on referrals, make an effort to expand the scope of your board recruitment efforts and tap into new talent pools. This might include partnering with other organizations or even hiring people whose lives have been positively impacted by your nonprofit’s work. 

“Nonprofits have the unique opportunity to recruit directly from the communities they serve,” Jeffrey Artis, President and CEO of the nonprofit Genesys Works, explains in the Moving Forward newsletter. “Former program participants are an invaluable source of talent.”

3. Foster an inclusive board culture.

A diverse board can only thrive if every member feels confident their voice is heard, respected, and valued. That’s why it’s critical to instill values of inclusion throughout your organization, including in the boardroom.

Make sure that your board members and other organizational leaders understand that diversity, equity, and inclusion are important to your nonprofit, and empower them with the knowledge and tools to foster an inclusive culture. If your organization uses LinkedIn Learning, consider sharing the following courses as a helpful starting point: 

For more courses like these, check out the learning path Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging for Leaders and Managers.

Make diversity a priority for your nonprofit’s board of directors

Diversity, equity, and inclusion matter at every level of a nonprofit. Since your board makes decisions that affect your entire organization, it’s important to be proactive and purposeful about structuring it effectively. When you embrace a diversity of lived experience on your board, everyone can benefit. 

Learn more about how discounted LinkedIn solutions can help your nonprofit advance its mission with the right talent and leadership.