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News & Press: National Philanthropy News

Simple Steps to Promote Diversity at Nonprofits

Monday, April 6, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz
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April 3, 2015

Chronicle of Philanthropy

To the Editor:

Ann Lehman’s opinion article "Need for Diversity at Nonprofits Is More Vital After Garner and Brown Cases" prompts me to suggest additional ideas for promoting diversity at nonprofits.

As Ms. Lehman notes, while most organizations have a commitment to inclusion of people not in the majority, not all groups reflect that in their employment policies. Yet even for those that do, how effectively are those policies implemented?

Another approach and strategy exists for nonprofits serious about promoting diversity and harnessing the many resulting benefits. This approach translates the principle of diversity into practice.

While employment policies may help, another opportunity ripe for implementation is to promote diversity by incorporating such priorities within a nonprofit’s bylaws. A key advantage of this approach is that the commitment to diversity can be actualized at the board level with the right processes, which can then be implemented and overseen by the board.

Following are a few draft illustrative bylaws that could empower all boards with the right information at those times when key board decisions are being made. I devised them based in part on Independent Sector’s Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice:

  • The nominating committee, when making nominations, shall report on the makeup of the board regarding gender, race, and nationality. Diversity shall also be considered in recruiting staff, and the president shall report annually to the board on the makeup of the staff.
  • The nominating committee shall evaluate and recommend candidates for the board and all committees considering organizational needs, board balance and diversity, leadership ability, availability to serve, and other factors the board may specify, such as financial literacy.
  • It is board policy that all members will serve on at least one board committee, which the nominating committee shall consider when qualifying and selecting candidates that most effectively meet board needs.

Many times boards no doubt have the very best of intentions, but they may not have all the necessary information at the moment when critical decisions are being made. By having the right internal-reporting processes, the board can ensure that it will be empowered with information, and far better positioned, to actually monitor progress in achieving diversity — or not — at both the staff and board levels.

This can be done with very simple reporting requirements, as has been done by some nonprofits whose boards have empowered themselves to actually achieve diversity progress. Another advantage of bylaw implementation is that a board has the opportunity to establish such board priorities, with reporting requirements to the board, in near perpetuity, or at least until there is some future board consensus that revises or revokes such diversity-promoting provisions.

Boards can more directly promote diversity by relying on bylaws, which can be a very valuable implementing strategy in regard to such matters.

Christopher Corbett

Albany, N.Y.

Mr. Corbett is an independent researcher and the author of "Advancing Nonprofit Stewardship Through Self-Regulation: Translating Principles Into Practice" (Kumarian Press).

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