A Seat at the Table: Four Nonprofit Board Recruitment Strategies to Improve Diversity | McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC


To ensure nonprofit boards maximize their impact on the people they serve, it is important to recognize the importance of diversity of ideas, especially when it comes to implementing new programs and services. As the governing body of a nonprofit organization, the board should understand the issues faced by the individuals they face as part of their decision-making process. Boards should consider including community members in the conversation to ensure their programs and initiatives are having the desired impact.

A recent report by the Women’s Nonprofit Leadership Initiative and La Salle University Nonprofit Center, titled Closing the Gaps: Gender and Race in Nonprofit Boardrooms, discusses the current diversity gaps facing large medical and higher education institutions in the Philadelphia area . It addresses concerns organizations and their boards face due to the limited diversity of their memberships and board members’ ability to “anticipate the impact of their decisions on students, patients and an increasingly diverse workforce.” As a result of these findings, the report’s authors call on nonprofit bodies to take action to narrow this gap.

Recruitment of various board members
In considering candidates, board members should ensure that the individuals they serve are represented in the leadership of the nonprofit organization that designs programs and guides policies. For example, if a nonprofit organization develops programs and services that it would like to offer to a community and members of that community are not involved in those discussions, there is a greater likelihood that those programs and services will not be successful. The same situation would be the case if a non-profit organization were formed to serve women and women were not part of the board.

1. Awareness and needs assessment. Awareness and recognition of the need to expand the search for a more diverse board is one of the first steps in implementing change. The board should take the opportunity to assess their needs and those of the non-profit organization. This assessment will identify any gaps in representation and give the board a focus to target and hire potential new board members.

2. Develop diverse candidate pools. The La Salle University report recommends that boards consider the following as part of their board recruitment processes:

• Leverage a wide range of networks and sources to build diverse candidate pools that go beyond typical C-suites
• Inclusion of people with different personal and professional backgrounds in the list of candidates
• Commit to interviewing candidates from underrepresented communities

3. Consider the organization’s current employees and volunteers. One way to identify new board members is to see if there are active employees or volunteers who would make a significant impact on the nonprofit at the board level. These are individuals who have shown an interest in the nonprofit organization, have an understanding of the individuals being served, and have dedicated their time and energy to the organization’s success.

4. Consider establishing an advisory board. Another way to find new board members could be to set up an advisory board. The Advisory Board may be composed of individuals who are active in the non-profit organization and have expressed an interest in joining the Board. After a short time on the advisory board, the board of the association can decide to include a member of the advisory board in the advisory board. The advisory board can serve as a bridge between the people the nonprofit organization serves and the board of directors, and as a source of additional thoughts and ideas for successful programs and services.

Final Thoughts on Diversity for Nonprofit Bodies
If there is no diversity of thought and ideas in planning programs and services, nonprofit board members could set up their organization for continued struggles—particularly when participants disagree. To ensure the nonprofit organization is successful, boards must take an active role in identifying the key stakeholders that have a voice at the government level.

Progress is being made in relation to the diversification of nonprofit boards – there is a growing awareness of the value that expanding the table and inviting new members to join the board will bring to the nonprofit organization. With an intentional focus on expanding diversification, nonprofit boards will have a better understanding of the issues faced by individuals served by those nonprofits, work toward advancing the nonprofit’s missions, and prosper in the future ensure for these non-profit organizations.

Get legal advice
When it comes to diversity and governance, nonprofit organizations should consider engaging with a nonprofit advocate who can assist in the development and implementation of new policies and procedures. An experienced lawyer will also be able to provide additional insight into corporate governance best practices. Attorney Frannie Reilly is available to discuss these and a variety of legal and governance issues faced by nonprofits.

To read the full report, visit

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