<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=142641566396183&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1">

How to Catch a Unicorn: Diversify Your Nonprofit Board Like You Mean it

Posted by Jermaine Smith on Feb 18, 2016 11:00:00 AM


blog-unicorn.jpgI am a millennial. I am a black man. I am a fundraiser. I am a board member (and soon board chair). These are some of the ways I describe myself. Yet, as my experience in the nonprofit sector has deepened, I have discovered that many board leaders describe me a different way:

I am a unicorn.

Sure, that seems like an extreme declaration, but the statistics support the idea that people like me are represented on boards about as often as a fabulous beast of myth. There are more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in America, and yet:

  • about eight percent of all nonprofit board members identify as minorities, with three of ten boards not reporting service from a single director of color
  • only about 1 in 5 millennials serve on a board — junior or otherwise
  • women represent just 43 percent of all board directors — but that number decreases as the organization’s budget increases.

Those statistics don’t make anyone feel warm and fuzzy about the leadership culture of nonprofits. How can a young, black fundraiser be such an anomaly on nonprofit boards — especially when most organizations stress a need for more diversity and fundraising expertise? Nonprofits by and large care about — and aspire to achieve — diversity in their leadership, and it all begins with one question: “How do I recruit and retain the leadership I need?”

So let’s get to the meat of the issue: You want me, but you don’t know how to get me. Here are some tips to get you started. For the purpose of this discussion, let’s presume your organization is doing great work in your community and looking to diversify your board leadership through color, gender, age, or another area.

  1. Perform a diversity audit and embrace where you need growth. If your board has 25 directors but only four women, one person of color, and no one under 35, you must address this when recruiting. If you clearly communicate that I am not the solution to your diversity problems, but rather part of your intentional, ongoing effort to become and remain diverse, I am likely to embrace your vision for the future. 
  2. Integrate diversity into your organization-wide strategic plan. Diversity strategies that exist as a separate initiative inadvertently make a statement: Your “normal” strategy is not designed to attract people like me. Take your diversity strategy and place it into your overall organizational growth strategy. If it doesn’t fit, your leadership should ask why not. Though it may seem counterintuitive, having a different strategy for people like me makes me feel, well, different (and not in a good way). 
  3. Recruit for skills – not for “the look.” Please understand that diversity of ethnicity, gender, age, etc. should not be your end, but rather a means to your end. If you recruit me simply because I am a black man, it will not take me long to realize that was the only prerequisite. If you focus your recruitment process on skills and talents, you will find me, but it may be in a place you have not looked before (e.g., young professional organization, junior board/committee, or an affinity group). Remember: I want to fundraise for you — not be black for you. 

These tips should help you begin thinking about — and maybe even act upon — a new diversity strategy. I want nonprofits to be diverse and to have success recruiting people like me. The best way to achieve that goal is not to pursue diverse leadership candidates as a prize to sit at the board table, but as a valued fundraiser, attorney, project manager, etc. who happens to be black, or a woman, or a millennial.

 Jermaine L. Smith is the development director for Educare New Orleans, and serves on the Young Leadership Council board of directors.

Take more meaningful steps toward inclusivity with these resources:
Learn more


Topics: Board Diversity & Inclusivity

Subscribe Here!

Recent Posts