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Overcoming Barriers to Board Diversity

Guest feature by Liahann R. Bannerman

Why is diversity a recurring topic for non-profit boards? What is so difficult about becoming a diverse board? The mistake many boards make is to jump straight to the recruitment phase without having a plan or a frank discussion about why diversity has been a challenge.

Diversity encompasses a number of characteristics that differ from organization to organization. Most often it is defined in racial and/or ethnic terms, so the board must be clear about whom it is trying to attract. An honest commitment to diversity and willingness to building genuine relationships can overcome many of the challenges.

Agree and examine your reasons for seeking diversity.
Answer key questions such as: Why are you doing this? How does diversity relate to your mission? What are the barriers we face? Be honest. If the primary reason is related to funders, admit it. This acknowledgement can start an important discussion, and identify becoming inclusive as your first step.

Develop a Statement of Purpose.
Begin with a firm commitment to diversity that is written, visible, and an expectation of all board and staff members.

Evaluate your Recruitment Plan:
In recruiting any board member, you must assess the skills, knowledge and demographics needed and analyze your existing board to determine gaps. A customizable board composition matrix and other recruitment information is available at www.uwkc.org/nonprofit/governance/board.

Your recruitment and cultivation efforts will need you to reach out beyond immediate circles to find potential candidates and build new community relationships. Be honest that you are trying to diversify your board. No board member wants to fill a quota, which can happen if you recruit solely on race, age, status, etc. The candidate must be interested in your mission and possess skills or knowledge needed for your board.

Involving your Board Members
Assign tasks independently of cultural or ethnic background and do not change requirements for an individual no matter how much you want their group represented. A candidate must commit the same amount of time and work as others. Because you do not hear about issues, does not mean they do not happen. Time, patience, willingness to explain, listen and ask, and training (for board and staff) will create an environment which truly welcomes diversity.

Remember, this is a discovery process - we all bring our own baggage to the mix and will never be perfect - the more you put yourself out there the more exciting and rewarding the journey.

United Way of King County Resources
Project LEAD (Leadership, Effectiveness and Diversity) is an in-depth, leadership training program providing current and future volunteer leadership with the skills and tools to effectively guide a governance board in today's changing environment. Project LEAD facilitates matching these skilled volunteers from communities of color with boards and committees. Project LEAD is currently recruiting for its next class. Visit at www.uwkc.org/ourcommunity/lead to find out how to apply. Non-profit organizations interested in recruiting Project LEAD graduates should list their board opportunity at www.uwkc.org/volunteer/solutions/agencies or contact Patrick Kelley at United Way of King County, (206) 461-3777, pkelley@uwkc.org.

Liahann R. Bannerman is Volunteer Center Director at United Way of King County. The Volunteer Center's programs mobilize volunteers and strengthen the infrastructure for volunteerism in King County. Liahann received a BA in Psychology from Harvard University and an MBA from Seattle Pacific University, where she focused her studies in Human Resource Management. She is a graduate of Leadership Tomorrow and currently serves on their Curriculum Committee. She also currently serves as Vice President for the Board of Directors of Music Works Northwest and volunteers for a variety of other community-based organizations and initiatives in the area.

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MUST READS FOR ARTS MANAGERS - PART 2
ORGANIZATIONAL MAGNETISM: PART ONE
ORGANIZATIONAL MAGNETISM: PART TWO
ORGANIZATIONAL MAGNETISM: PART THREE
OVERCOMING BARRIERS TO BOARD DIVERSITY
TIPS FROM THE FIELD
MORE TIPS FROM THE FIELD
PLANNING EFFECTIVE MEETINGS
BUILDING EFFECTIVE BOARDS
THE PRESS KIT
MOTIVATING VOLUNTEERS
DELIVERING OUTSTANDING CUSTOMER SERVICE
Shown: Seattle Youth Symphony. Photo: Colleen Boyce.
Seattle Youth Symphony.
Photo: Colleen Boyce.
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