Board Diversity – Continually seeking the Best and the Brightest

Posted on 26. Jan, 2018 by in Boards Behaving Better

What is it about boards that make them so challenging? It is the conflict and controversy that makes boards frustrating, or the lack of big picture thinking? When there is a lack of experience and expertise on a non-profit board, the range of ideas and information is limited. Large nonprofits, like hospitals and academic institutions, know this, and create a corporate governance structure that brings the best practices to the table.

Why do the majority of non-profit organizations rely on a limited range of expertise and experience for their boards? If everyone has the same professional training, where is the diversity of ideas? Diversity is so much more than age, gender, race and ethnicity, which should be represented across the spectrum. Diversity also includes expertise in a range of fields, not limited to HR, finance, marketing, communications, technology, small business, and government; it is also important to consider corporate, as well as other nonprofit leaders.
In membership and trade organizations, the members talk among themselves – so awareness of challenges facing their field, which may impact sustainability, never get addressed. In family foundations, the family members often talk among themselves, and get limited input outside their small circle of family dynamics. In these entities, diversity of expertise is not configured into their board membership criteria.

Is the goal of the board to think and act strategically, problem-solve creatively, and ensure the robust sustainability of the organization, or just to maintain the status quo and hope for the best?? We often find a preponderance of board leaders with legal training in many service-driven organizations. Legal expertise is valuable for every board; however, until a complete range of diverse expertise is represented, a board may be dominated by legal thinking – which tends to be tactical, linear and risk-averse.

Do you really want your board members to think strategically, have the ability and experience to assess risks and be able to understand and advise regarding complexity and change? If so, how do you attract and recruit a range of backgrounds to your board? Do you rely on the friends and colleagues of your existing board or founder/leader for board talent? How are you orienting and training your current and new board members? Do you seek big donors or big thinkers – as this may impact your ability to problem-solve creatively and be innovative.

Every nonprofit needs an active governance committee that is continually seeking and recruiting diverse new talent and ensuring best practices. Why not invite some of the best and brightest to add their expertise to committees or special projects? What is your leadership pipeline and do you have the right people in the right seats?

Priscilla Rosenwald
Leadership Recruiters

Comments are closed.