How to Build a Better Board

How do you define a diverse board? While race, ethnicity, and gender are top of mind, board diversity doesn’t stop there. For boards to function effectively, they must be composed of individuals with a variety of skills, abilities, and affiliations. 

Building a diverse board takes the characteristics of potential board members into account during the recruitment process. When your board is diverse it ensures that it has the aspects needed to meet its goals and objectives while creating the environment for good governance.

It is important to assess the current state of your board in order to understand what qualities should be recruited to fill the gaps that are not being fulfilled by current board members. The following bullets can serve as a guide for creating a board matrix assessment.

  • Age – Are the majority of board members over 65? Do you have any younger than 35? Use age bands, such as 21-34, 35-49, 50-64, and 65+ to understand the age makeup of your board. Having different generations engaged in decision making is powerful.
  • Gender – How many women and men sit on your board? Do you allow for non-binary identity designations? Be certain to compare your board as a collective to its officers because while you may have gender parity across the full board, the executive committee members may be primarily men. According to BoardSource’s 2017 Leading with Intent report, board members are 52% male, 48% female. For board chairs, it’s 58% male, 42% female.
  • Race and Ethnicity – Nationally, 27% of boards identify as all white as reported in Leading with Intent. What percentage of your board is Black, white, Asian or Pacific Islander, Latinx, Native American, or another segment such as Appalachian? Building racial diversity is a priority for many organizations but, sadly, the national data has not improved in years.
  • Zip Codes – Geography can often be surprising. For one of our clients, more than one-quarter of their board members lived in the same affluent zip code. Track the home zip codes of your board members to assess how broad, or how narrow, the distribution is. The lived experiences of board members adds to the diversity of your board.
  • Expertise – Most nonprofits know how many attorneys, accountants, and marketing professionals serve on their boards, but there are other areas of expertise that are deeply meaningful. For instance, artists, architects, real estate developers, social workers, law enforcement officials, military leaders, retail experts, project managers, clergy, policy makers, counselors, educators, and evaluators bring a breadth of talent that can be highly beneficial to your mission.
  • Affiliations – Similar to expertise, most nonprofits know how many of their board members represent the corporate community or are personal philanthropists. But how many on your board are members of the faith community, medical community, LGBTQ community, disability community, or are veterans? How many parents or community members serve on your board? Do you have someone from the local university or from a partner agency on your board? Making sure your recruitment efforts are broader than major corporations adds depth to board composition.
  • Qualities – Is your board full of visionaries? Or do you have a mix of strategists, tacticians, analysts, consensus builders, communicators, and other qualities that ensures different skills and perspectives are in the board room?
  • Workplace Assessments – Consider asking your board members if they have participated in Gallup StrengthsFinder, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DiSC, Kolbe, Enneagram, or other workplace assessments. If so, find out what their type or strengths are and understand that composition on your board just as you would the composition on your staff. That knowledge will provide insight into the dynamic that exists in board conversations.
  • Board Terms – Be sure each board member on the matrix is ranked by when their term ends so that you can measure when certain elements of the matrix will change. For instance, it could be that half of the women on your board will roll off at the same time, or both attorneys will end their terms in the same year. Paying attention to timing will inform and prioritize your recruitment efforts.

Your board is an asset that helps achieve your organization’s mission and vision. We need strong, diverse, and engaged boards to ensure that nonprofits have the leadership required to meet the deep needs of the people and places they serve.

Take your board matrix to the next level by adding these questions. When you do, let us know how it benefits your board’s dialogue and debate.

Article by: Kerri Laubenthal Mollard, Founder & CEO

2021-04-08T17:09:25+00:00April 8th, 2021|