Diverse Nonprofit Board Governance: Diversity in Nonprofit Board Governance”

Board Diversity Network

Diversity is an undeniable and integral aspect of the Canadian social fabric. As the demographics of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Canada as a whole continue to evolve, it is essential that nonprofit organizations reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. In this article, we explore the importance of diversity in nonprofit board governance and introduce the toolkit “Diversity in Governance: A Toolkit for Nonprofit Boards,” developed by Maytree, which provides a roadmap for promoting diversity and inclusion within nonprofit boards.

Why Diversity Matters

The Canadian nonprofit and voluntary sector is one of the largest in the world, employing millions of people and relying heavily on volunteer contributions. However, despite the sector’s significant impact, the composition of nonprofit boards often does not mirror the diversity of the communities they serve. A study conducted in the GTA revealed that, in 2010, visible minorities accounted for only 11.9% of board members in the 20 largest charities and foundations, despite comprising 49.5% of the local population. Furthermore, some organizations had no visible minorities on their boards, missing out on the valuable perspectives and talents they bring.

Embracing diversity in nonprofit boards makes good business sense, leading to several advantages:

  • Better Decision-Making: Diverse boards bring a range of perspectives to decision-making, resulting in more informed and effective choices.
  • Legitimizing the Organization: A diverse board can enhance the organization’s credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the community it serves.
  • Building Social Capital: Diverse boards foster social cohesion among various populations, strengthening community connections.
  • Responsiveness: A diverse board is better equipped to address the unique needs and concerns of diverse communities and clients.
  • Support for Fundraising and Outreach: Diverse boards can be more effective in fundraising efforts and reaching out to diverse audiences.

Getting Started with Diversity in Governance

Recognizing the need for diversity is the crucial first step towards achieving it. Nonprofit boards must acknowledge that diversity matters and that it aligns with their organization’s mission and values. Key considerations include:

  1. Identifying the impetus for change, whether it’s a shift in the community demographics, a desire for better decision-making, or the need to improve fundraising efforts.
  2. Ensuring that board members are willing to lead the charge for diversity, linking it to the organization’s strategic plan and embracing change management principles.
  3. Committing to breaking out of the comfort zone, taking risks, and learning from the experiences of other organizations that have successfully diversified their boards.
  4. Incorporating diversity training for board members into the overall board development plan.

Starting the Conversation

To embark on the journey towards diversity in governance, nonprofit boards should begin by discussing what diversity means for their organization. They can examine their current demographics, evaluate their organization’s culture, and identify any barriers to diversity. Engaging in these conversations and setting clear goals are vital steps in the process.

Developing a Board Diversity Policy

A board diversity policy is a powerful tool that signals an organization’s commitment to diversity and equity. It provides guidance on governance practices that support diversity and inclusion. The policy should include:

  • A values statement highlighting the organization’s commitment to diversity and equity.
  • A clear articulation of the benefits diversity will bring to the board’s work.
  • Specific objectives and milestones.
  • An accountability framework.
  • Resources for implementation.
  • An operational plan outlining steps to achieve diversity goals.

Creating an environment where board members wholeheartedly embrace the policy is crucial for its success.

Incorporating Diversity in Nonprofit Board Governance

Diversity is not just a buzzword; it’s an essential element of effective nonprofit board governance. Organizations like Women’s College Hospital and United Way Toronto have successfully embedded diversity into their culture and governance practices, reaping the benefits of inclusivity.

As nonprofit boards embark on their journey towards greater diversity, they can learn from these examples, leverage the toolkit provided by Maytree, and commit to building a more inclusive and representative board that reflects the rich diversity of the communities they serve. By doing so, they will strengthen their organizations and better fulfill their missions in an increasingly diverse society.