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A Seat at the Table: Four Recruiting Strategies for Nonprofit Boards to Enhance Diversity

March 14, 2023

by Frannie Reilly

To ensure that boards of nonprofit organizations maximize their impact on the individuals they serve, it is crucial to recognize the importance of having a diversity of ideas, especially when looking to implement new programs and services. As the governing body of a nonprofit organization, the board should understand the issues faced by the individuals being served as part of their decision-making process. The board should consider including community members in the conversation to ensure that their programs and initiatives will have the desired impact.

A recent report released by the Women’s Nonprofit Leadership Initiative and The Nonprofit Center at La Salle University, titled Closing the Gaps: Gender and Race in Nonprofit Boardrooms, discusses the current diversity gaps facing large medical and higher educational institutions in the greater Philadelphia region. It addresses concerns that organizations and their boards are facing due to their memberships’ limited diversity and the abilities of board members to “foresee the impact their decisions might have on students, patients and a workforce that are increasingly diverse.” As a result of these findings, the report’s authors call on nonprofit boards to implement measures to reduce this gap.

Recruiting diverse board members
When considering candidates, board members should ensure that the individuals being served are represented in the governance of the nonprofit organization shaping programs and guiding policies. For example, if a nonprofit organization is developing programs and services to offer to a community and no members of that community are included in these discussions, there is a greater likelihood that these programs and services will not be successful. The same situation would be true if a nonprofit organization was established to serve women and women were not a part of the board.

1. Awareness and identifying needs. An awareness and recognition of the need to expand the search for a more diverse board is one of the first steps toward enacting change. The board should take the opportunity to assess its needs and those for the nonprofit organization. This assessment will identify any gaps in representation and provide a focus for the board to intentionally search for and engage potential new board members.

2. Develop diverse candidate pools. The La Salle University report recommends that boards consider the following as part of their board member recruitment processes:

• Leverage a wide range of networks and sources to develop diverse candidate pools that go beyond the typical c-suites
• Include individuals with varying personal and professional backgrounds on the candidate list
• Commit to inviting candidates of underrepresented populations to interview

3. Consider current organization employees and volunteers. One way to help identify new board members is to see if there are active employees or volunteers that would make a meaningful impact on the nonprofit organization at the board level. These are individuals who have shown an interest in the nonprofit organization, have an understanding of the individuals served and have dedicated their time and energy to the successful of the organization.

4. Consider establishing an advisory board. Another way to help identify new board members could be to establish an advisory board. The advisory board may be comprised of individuals who are involved with the nonprofit organization and who have expressed an interest in joining the board. Following a short time on the advisory board, the organization’s executive board may make the decision to ask an advisory board member to join the board. The advisory board may serve as a bridge between the individuals served by the nonprofit organization and the board and as a source for generating additional thoughts and ideas for successful programs and services.

Final thoughts on diversity for nonprofit boards
If there is no diversity of thought and ideas when planning programs and services, nonprofit board members could be setting up their organization for continued struggles — especially when there is no buy-in from participants. To ensure that the nonprofit will be successful, boards must take an active role identifying key stakeholders to have a voice at the governing level.

Progress is being made regarding diversification of nonprofit boards — there is an increased awareness of the value that expanding the table and inviting new members to join the board will bring to the nonprofit organization. With an intentional focus of expanding diversification, nonprofit organization boards will have a better understanding of issues facing individuals served by these nonprofit organizations, work toward furthering the nonprofits’ missions and ensure a successful future for these nonprofit organizations.

Seek legal advice
When tackling diversity and governance, nonprofit organizations should consider reaching out to a nonprofit lawyer who can assist with drafting and implementing new policies and procedures. An experienced lawyer will also be able to provide additional insight into best practices for corporate governance. Attorney Frannie Reilly is available to discuss these and a wide range of legal and governance matters that nonprofits face.

Frannie Reilly leads McNees’ Charitable and Non-Profit and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Groups. She has served as outside general counsel to numerous nonprofit organizations, including colleges, universities, charter schools and foundations. Frannie is passionate about sharing legal education and is an adjunct professor for La Salle University’s Masters of Science in the Nonprofit Leadership Program. She also serves as co-chair of the firm’s Public Finance and Government Services Group and is an active member of McNees’ Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee.

To read the full report, visit

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