A nonprofit board has the responsibility of setting policy for the organization.
I believe that in order to perform this responsibility effectively, the board should include a wide variety of individuals. Every board should have a discussion of the ideal board makeup in terms of diversity.
Here are some of the diversities each board should be discussing:
It is clear that in America, the large majority of African-Americans have different cultural experiences than Caucasians. Each board should then take a look at the individuals the agency serves. If the agency serves African-Americans, then African-Americans should serve as board members.
Hispanics and Other Ethnicities
The same reasoning applies here. If the agency serves a percentage of Latinos/Hispanics, individuals from these cultures should sit on the board.
Here is where many boards have conflicting opinions. Of course, having rich people on the board increases the amount of donations. But many times, rich people have different values and interests than the individuals served by the agency. So I suggest a mix—wealthy, middle-class and low income individuals.
Not long ago, I led a board training workshop for a senior citizens center. Before the workshop, I visited the center to learn about its activities. Most of the activities were geared to low-income seniors. For example, the most popular program was a literacy program. Yet every board member was either upper-middle class or wealthy. It was clear from the discussion at the board meeting that not a single board member had a clue of the needs and interests of the program participants and therefore they could not set policy effectively.
Make sure to include on the board representatives of the population being served. This is extremely important. A head start parent should serve on a head start board. A mental health “consumer” should serve on a mental health board, etc.
Why should YMCA or YWCA boards be composed of all men or all women when both organizations serve both men and women? Why should domestic violence boards or rape crisis center boards exclude men from board participation. Programs to reduce the number of male perpetrators are essential to fulfilling the mission of these organizations. Males should certainly serve on these boards.
Look at both the religions represented in the community and in the client population. If an organization serves Muslims, for example, Muslims should be included on the board.
Look at who is served by the agency. I think there is wide agreement that a senior center should include seniors on its board. I would also recommend that organizations serving teenagers should include youth on the board as well. It is a good idea to include individuals of all ages on any board.
(Michael Sand provides consulting and training for nonprofit organizations. Please contact him at MSand9999@aol.com. He will write a subsequent article which includes ideas for encouraging individuals of diverse backgrounds to become active on nonprofit boards.)