Why There’s Still a Lack of Board Diversity:
BoardSource 2017 Report

By Josephine Victoria Yam, 2017 September 7

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ‘Because it’s 2015!’ response to why his new cabinet was half-female was iconic and memorable, even hopeful and encouraging.

So it was deeply disappointing to read the BoardSource 2017 Report released yesterday on its particular findings on nonprofit board diversity. Yes, it’s 2017 and there’s still no diversity in nonprofit boards. After two years since its last national survey, nonprofit boards are still painfully lacking in diversity.

BoardSource is the leading organization in the U.S. focused on strengthening and supporting nonprofit board leadership. It’s been tracking and analyzing national trends in nonprofit board leadership for more than 20 years. Yesterday, it published a 64-page report, “Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices”.

The report noted that the levels of board diversity have not changed: 84% of board directors are Caucasian and 27% of boards identify as all-white. Minorities and people of colour represent at most 18% of board membership.

This is the case despite the volumes of research illustrating the positive correlation between a diverse board and an effective board. For example, CEOs report that board diversity is important for their nonprofits in:

 
Understanding the changing environment from a broader perspective
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Developing creative new solutions to new problems
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Understanding the client populations served by the organization
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Planning effectively, and
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Increasing fundraising or expanding donor networks.
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So why is there still a lack of diversity in nonprofit boards? It’s because boards fail to expressly identify diversity as a high priority in board recruitment. Though they understand the importance of diversity, boards continue to recruit in the same way they always have - by tapping potential candidates from the same personal network of connections of existing board directors. People who look, act and think like them.

The report suggests three ways that a board can strengthen its current recruitment practices to address the lack of diversity.

First, it must be intentional about defining what the ideal board composition looks like in terms of diversity in age, gender, ethnicity, experience and expertise. Diversity in board recruitment must rank as one of the top three priorities of the board.

Second, it must be vigilant about finding individuals who will fit such composition through focused and disciplined board recruitment. This means that existing board directors must go beyond their usual personal networks and use nontraditional means of recruitment.

Lastly, it must expressly agree to incorporate diversity and inclusion into the nonprofit’s core organizational values. In doing so, the board expressly articulates how crucial diversity is as it steers the nonprofit to achieve its mission and positively change the world.

After all, as poet and novelist Maya Angelou so wisely counsels: "In diversity, there is beauty and there is strength."

To read the BoardSource, Leading with Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices (Washington, D.C.: BoardSource, 2017) Report, click here.

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So let’s raise our glasses twice or even thrice, right? No, not just yet.

Meet Our Partners

  • As we celebrate the 150th birthday of Canada with the 150Alliance, we are proud to contribute to a national narrative that weaves inspiring stories of how businesses and nonprofits are working side by side through our B3 Board Matching & Training Programs.

  • Alberta's Promise operates within the Government of Alberta’s Department of Human Services. With over 1,800 business, nonprofit and community partners, they help businesses connect with non-profits across Alberta to make meaningful contributions that benefit children and youth ages 0 to 24.

  • For 20 years, CharityVillage has been the HR partner for recruitment in the Canadian nonprofit sector. Through their eLearning courses, volunteer and event listings, webinars, newsletters, articles, tools and resources, they help nonprofit staff and volunteers do their best work every day.

  • The Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations is a member-based nonprofit organization founded in 2002 in Edmonton, AB. They serve the nonprofit and charitable organizations in the Alberta Capital Region.

  • The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) is the provincial network for the approximately 55,000 nonprofit organizations across Ontario. As a 7,000-strong provincial network, with a volunteer base of 300 sector leaders, ONN brings the diverse voices of the sector to government, funders and business to create and influence systemic change.

  • For over 62 years, Propellus has been supporting volunteers and volunteerism within the communities of Calgary. It strongly believes that volunteering is essential to creating and sustaining healthy, supportive and connected communities.

  • The Sustainability Network is a national organization that works with environmental nonprofits to make them more effective and efficient. Their mission is to enrich environmental leaders and nonprofit organizations so that they can help us all achieve sustainability.

  • Founded in 1943, Vantage Point delivers learning opportunities focused on governance, leadership, planning and people engagement for new and seasoned sector leaders, board directors and managers, aimed at advancing not-for-profit leadership.

  • Women Get On Board is a leading member-based company that connects, promotes and empowers women to corporate boards. They do this through an engaged community of women and men in Canada committed to advancing gender diversity in the boardroom.

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