Recruiting Young, Diverse Boards a Challenge


by Richard Levey

Nonprofit leaders acknowledge the need to diversify organizational boards of directors and advisors. The impulse goes beyond issues of justice and fairness – although these are factors – to those of organization strength: diverse leadership enables nonprofits to consider a wider range of factors and reach broader audiences.

While 95 percent of nonprofits are actively seeking to diversify their governing boards, 87 percent have been frustrated in their attempts to find the right recruitment channels, according to a new survey from New York City-based CariClub, which provides philanthropic leadership opportunities to young professionals.

Another 25 percent responded they didn’t have the resources needed to conduct extensive recruitment drives and 12 percent indicated the candidates they were finding were not good fits.

Among the 1,000 nonprofits surveyed by CariClub, 77 percent indicated Hispanic or Latino representation on their boards was lacking, and 72 percent said African Americans were underrepresented. Just less than six in 10 – 58 percent – indicated they were looking for more Asians to join their boards.

Nonprofit managers acknowledge the need for diversity. One quarter of those surveyed strongly disbelieve that their boards reflect the communities they serve, while another 26 percent said they somewhat disagreed. Only seven percent strongly agreed their boards were representative of those they serve, and another 33 percent somewhat agreed theirs did.

Despite this, only half said their organizations had undertaken efforts to diversify their boards.

Most boards have space to welcome new members. According the respondents, the average board seats 21 members, but currently has four vacancies. Across the board, 83 percent would be willing to increase their total membership to broaden their board’s diversity.

Potential board members are more likely to be welcomed if they come from certain professional backgrounds. Nearly three quarters – 74 percent – would welcome board members with a background in communications and marketing, while another 68 percent seek individuals with technology backgrounds and 67 would embrace financial services professionals.

Unsurprisingly, those with backgrounds likely already well represented – professional services/consulting, social services for nonprofits, human resources, healthcare, real estate and arts and entertainment – were not as frequently desired for nonprofit boards.

The desire for new members with these backgrounds reflects the functions organizational managers expect their boards to fulfill. More than three quarters use their boards for fundraising, while 46 percent expect their boards to perform marketing communication and marketing roles.