Creating the Pipeline
An Ongoing Commitment: Creating a more diverse board of directors does not happen overnight and it usually doesn't happen once a year when the time comes to elect new directors. Creating a pool of people who can serve as potential board members is an ongoing process that should be on the minds of the staff and the board of directors continually. Furthermore, organizations should integrate the cultivation of prospective board members into many programs and community outreach strategies. Success is more likely when everyone in the organization internalizes the responsibility for constantly looking for good candidates and understands that those candidates can be found in many different venues, not just within the same (often over-used) circles of people that organizations frequently ask to serve on boards. Term limits are also useful to ensure that new voices and perspectives join the board regularly.
Open Participation on Committees to Address the "Recycling Rut": Joe Watson, CEO of StrategicHire, states that many nonprofit organizations suffer from a "network recycling effect." Homogeneous boards are more likely to experience this phenomenon than heterogeneous boards because they have fewer circles of familiar faces to reach out to. The result is that recruiting new board members requires them to recruit unfamiliar people, which can create anxiety about the prospect of bringing someone unknown onto a board. To lessen this tension, organizations can allow all non-board members to serve on existing committees and task forces. This allows an organization to work with all prospective board members before they are actually nominated to the board.
This can be useful if an organization lacking deep relationships in communities of color feels nervous about nominating new board members (either board members of color or otherwise) whom they know less about.
Another benefit of opening up the committee process is that you can get more voices contributing to decision-making.
Note that if you decide to open up the committee process, it is important to consider whether all committees should be open or just some. For example, some organizations do not allow non-board members to serve on finance committees.
Constituents and Volunteers as Board Prospects: Many nonprofit representatives believe that the clients served by an organization would not make effective board members. However, constituents can provide enormously valuable perspectives to a board of directors about the work of the organization. They also can provide access to others who use or might use an organization's services.
This is especially valuable in situations where the board of directors establishes policy that will affect a group of people who are not familiar to or well understood by the board members.
Constituents often have a deeper commitment to an organization than other board members because they personally benefit from the organization's work.
Organizations that invite constituents to serve as board members should evaluate their expectations of board members to ensure that they are respectful of the resources, time, and skills of constituents. For example, some organizations require that all board members contribute financially to the organization at a certain level; constituents of an organization that serves low-income clients likely will not have the resources to make large cash donations to the organization though they can make other meaningful contributions.
Similarly, many organizations overlook volunteers as prospective board members, despite the fact that they can have a deeper understanding of the organization than many board members. Volunteers also have a proven commitment to the organization, which many board prospects do not.
Overview: Board of Directors
Recruiting Board Members of Color
Retaining Board Members and Utilizing Exit Interviews