Discussion Forum April 14, 2011: Recruiting Board Members of Color


On April 14, 2011, The Denver Foundation's Inclusiveness Project hosted a discussion forum on the topic of "Recruiting Board Members of Color." The session was organized by members of the Inclusiveness Collaborative, a group of Metro Denver nonprofit organizations interested in intentionally building inclusiveness within their organizations. This was the second in a series of six discussion forums. The Inclusiveness Collaborative grew out of The Denver Foundation's first learning community, which began in 2006 with a cohort of eleven participating organizations.

Over thirty people were in attendance, representing the following organizations: Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Clayton Early Learning Center, Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education, Colorado Department of Human Services, Colorado Symphony, Colorado Youth at Risk, Curious Theatre, CWEE (Center for Work, Education, and Employment),Delores Project, Denver Center for Crime Victims, Doctors Care, Girls Inc., Inner City Health Center, Kids in Need of Dentistry, Mental Health America of Colorado (MHAC), Partnership for Families and Children, Project Angelheart, Project WISE, Rocky Mountain Youth Clinics, Safe Shelter of St. Vrain, and Wildlands Restoration Volunteers.

Panelists were Stacie Gilmore of Environmental Learning for Kids and Morris Price with the Office of Diana DeGette. Moderator was Mike Roque with the Office of Strategic Partnerships, City of Denver.

Participants shared myths and/or barriers they had regarding the session's topic. Then the panel spoke on: infrastructure/preparation for new board members; recruitment; and retainment. Following are highlights of those presentations and ensuing discussions.


  • The overall purpose for building inclusiveness in your board is to match the demographics of your clientele in the composition of your board.
  • Be clear about what you require of board members; don't downplay that commitment.
  • Create a board expectation policy which might include the give/get policy, how members will be asked to replace themselves at the end of their terms (i.e., by giving the names of three people with whom the organization can be building relationships with from now until the member completes his or her board term).
  • Define your board culture; culture is a learned behavior; have conversations about this.
  • Don't make exceptions for any board member; it's a slippery slope if you do; treat everyone the same in terms of the recruitment process and in their service on the board.
  • An individual member's give/get should be a conversation between the executive director and the fundraising person, not a public discussion.
  • Meet people where they're at (i.e., current board members); one-on-one conversations are helpful I working through sensitive issues.


  • People of color know they are of color; be honest with them about why you are recruiting them.
  • Consider two additional categories to the board matrix: zip code and community influence.
  • Look for skill sets first.
  • Be honest about what you are looking for in a board member.
  • Build relationships with people before you start recruiting; building relationships means having open dialogue.
  • You might say to a prospective board candidate, "On top your skill set, we are attracted to you as a board member because we are trying to become a more inclusive organization. As a board member you will be part of a team; you will not be asked to be a spokesperson for an entire community."
  • Don't be a stranger to your communities of color; get involved in community events.
  • Go to fundraising events and use the programs to research people on the organizations' boards.
  • Buy ads in fundraising event programs to get your organization more visible in the communities from which you seek board members.
  • Corporations have affinity groups; tap into them for potential board members.
  • Look at your vendors list for potential board members.
  • Look at your volunteer base for potential board members.
  • Invite people to serve on committees as an initial step into the organization or as a way off the board if a person cannot make a full board commitment.


  • Designate current board members to be mentors to new board members; board buddies are helpful.
  • Every meeting should have board development time; there needs to be a board education plan.
  • Bring on people who you can envision as board chair (over time); gradually develop leadership roles.
  • Have an orientation that is comprehensive; don't assume that people will know what you're talking about.
  • The word "training" might scare people (e.g., diversity training); the word "conversation" might be more appealing and engaging.
  • Go through "bad stuff" with your board (e.g., staff embezzlement) and how a bad situation is being corrected; don't let them learn about "bad stuff" through the media or grapevine.
  • The executive director needs to do one-on-ones with board members, to keep building relationships.
  • Bring staff in on board meetings; staff as liaisons to board committees is helpful; executive director needs to let go of control issues.
  • Vary food items at board meetings to reflect different communities.
  • Statewide organizations need to move their meetings around the state.


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