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Does your nonprofit board of directors need more diversity?

Published April 2018

Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, offers her response to the MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. The opinions offered here are based on the author's personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.

I am a senior vice president at a large, regional branch of a national nonprofit and one of my responsibilities is to send candidates to my president for consideration as potential board members. I spend a great deal of time out in the community on various policy making committees, and I am able to meet many engaged community members.

My problem: I am always on the lookout for potential board members of minority (in our community) groups who have both the experience and desire to join our governing board. I dutifully send along names of those individuals who seem to fit the bill, but the results are usually:

  1. They are already on too many boards;
  2. They don’t trust that they are not being used as the “token” minority for a board;
  3. Upon interview, just don’t have the “chops” for the role;
  4. Some combination of the above.

This situation presents a challenge on several fronts. My organization is required by some of our grantors to prove board diversity and, more importantly, we all believe our board should reflect the demographics of those we serve. I can't help but feel that I must be missing opportunities to identify potential board members — the pool just can’t be as limited as it appears.

What am I doing wrong?

Kathryn says …

This is an especially interesting letter for me, as I had the exact same responsibility when I was a senior vice president at United Way. Living in a southern city — where older residents can still remember segregated schools and where minorities consistently leave for more diversity-friendly cities — only made my challenge more difficult. There was not a lot of trust between different segments of our population and some negative history of tokenism to overcome.

I did find some options that proved invaluable. I contacted the Hispanic, African-American, Asian, and other Chambers of Commerce and requested opportunities to “make the ask” for interested people at upcoming events, requested that I might write an article regarding the United Way need for their various newsletters and I asked to be invited to networking events. I also contacted several churches that focused on minority community needs and asked to present to their committees.

Another excellent resource were special business groups, formed to support minority business men and women; for example, I included groups in my outreach efforts such as Black Lawyers, American Association of Hispanic CPAs and Senior Business Associations. I also contributed short articles for publication in their newsletters and blogs.

Finally, I remained open to bright “up-and-comers” who may not have previously served on a board, but who were clearly on top of their game and deeply engaged in their communities.

I realized that there were many excellent potential board nominees right under my nose. It was my job to expand my contacts and my networks and get more involved in the search. In the process, I not only helped in the recruitment of quite a few stellar board members, I made some new business contacts and friends.



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