How diverse is your board?

How do you define diversity?The board of directors of a non-profit organization is responsible for the organization’s financial health. The board is also charged with hiring and evaluating the executive director, creating policies and procedures that guide the work of board and staff,  with articulating the organization’s mission and vision, and ensuring the organization has access to the funds it needs to deliver on its mission.

But who are these board members? Who is making decisions for the organizations we rely on and are engaged with? If you are a member of a church or other religious organization, attend or work at a community college, seek food from a local non-profit or food bank, visit a museum, ride the bus or visit a hospital you are interacting with one of the thousands of Bay Area non-profits. And each is governed by a board of directors. They are making decisions that impact which services are offered, how donated funds are used, which government grants are pursued, and ultimately how these organizations will help – or not help – individuals, families and communities.

Board members who govern public agencies such as transit authorities and community colleges are elected. Others such as board members of faith-based organizations, private colleges and grass roots organizations are selected by people who are already sitting on the board. Still others are elected by members of the organization. This is true of membership organizations such as the Sierra Club.

The composition of the board is increasingly important to funders, donors, staff and the very people served by an organization. But what is diversity? The San Francisco Foundation holds diversity as a core value that guides its work. They define diversity as “the range and variety of characteristics and beliefs of individuals that encompasses, but is not limited to, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, age, economic class, immigration status, and religious belief.”

Here is our question for your organization – how do you balance your board’s membership? How do you ensure your board represents the people you serve? That it also includes people with access to wealth and decision makers? Do you engage individuals who can provide guidance in the areas of financial management, fundraising, personnel, and emerging trends in your content area? Are your board members required to conform to a specific viewpoint? Is agreeing with the board chair or executive director a requirement for membership? Each organization answers these questions differently. How does your organization give life to diversity?

© Copyright 2009 – Mel and Pearl Shaw


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