Board members are guardians of the organization. They’re charged with ensuring that the organization has a clear and compelling mission and that all aspects of its operation are oriented toward achieving that mission. To that end, their primary duties include:
- Adopting sound governance and fiscal management practices to make effective use of all assets (people, property, programming, funding, goodwill, etc.)
- Making decisions in the best interest of the organization and all of the constituencies it serves
- Ensuring compliance with all applicable laws and contractual obligations
- Hiring, supervising, and supporting a talented executive to run the day-to-day operations
Volumes have been written on strategies for defining board member roles and responsibilities as well as instituting practices to recruit the right personnel for service. Most emphasize such things as board member skill sets, community connections, relationship to constituencies, and passion for the cause. Few focus on diversity.
Some dismiss the notion of “diversity” as being the product of political correctness. Nothing could be further from the truth. Diversity strengthens organizations in the following ways:
- Diverse boards more fully understand the needs of the communities they serve. They also position the nonprofit to connect with (and be a trusted resource for) the whole community.
- The board can make better decisions by virtue of its capacity to ask and answer questions from a variety of vantage points based on the members’ diverse life experiences.
- A diverse board can make the organization more adaptable to an ever-changing business climate.
- Higher ethnic and racial diversity has been positively correlated with good governance practices that improve operations, reduce risk, and enhance fiscal security.
Unfortunately, nonprofits aren’t doing a great job with respect to diversity. BoardSource’s 2015 survey entitled Leading With Intent speaks to the underrepresentation of persons of color in nonprofit leadership. Although 64% of Americans are white, 89% of nonprofit CEOs and 88% of board members are white. While women account for 48% of board positions, their representation declines with increases in organizational size. Only 16% of board members are under age 40. This latter point deserves special consideration.
Millennials – i.e., Americans born between 1980 and the mid-2000s – account for one-third of the US population. They are the most diverse generation to date; forty-two percent deem themselves non-white. They are the most educated generational cohort with 61% having attended college. And they’ll represent the overwhelming majority of the workforce by 2025.
If you don’t have a plan to attract millennials to your board, it’s time you put one in place. This plan needs to contemplate more than the erstwhile “Junior Board” or “Advisory Board.” They need to be cultivated to serve as full-fledged organizational leaders. As you pursue this change, here are a few things you ought to know:
- They’ve been shaped by technology. They’re active on social networks and communicate prolifically via texting and chat (Hint: you may need to adopt new styles of communication!).
- They have tight connections with friends and family and have a keen interest in contributing to their communities. When you engage millennials, consider the ways in which you can involve their “tribe” in your work and mission. Their social-mindedness can be a huge asset if cultivated appropriately.
- They love learning as evidenced by unprecedented attendance at college and grad school. Find ways to leverage their knowledge and contribute to their thirst for broadening their skills. You may need to consider some form of remuneration to help with sizable student debt as a means of recruitment.
Your recruiting plan needs to consider where and how you’ll attract this constituency into the boardroom. It also needs to contemplate how you’ll adapt to keep them there once you’ve garnered their attention and commitment.
While we advocate diversity planning for your nonprofit board, we also stand clearly on the side of getting the right board members for the right positions. They still need to bring the skills, connections, and heart for the work to fulfill the organizational mission. They still need to have the capacity to roll up their sleeves to help the executive director attend to his or her operational responsibilities – especially fundraising. And they still need to take their participation seriously by paying close attention to the operational and fiscal reports they receive and voicing their opinions and concerns for the greater good.
Nonprofit Leadership Guide
Download our guide to effective nonprofit board governance, including how to avoid blurring the line between board governance and management as well as how to attract millennials to serve on the board.