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Building a More Diverse Board

diversity rules!

diversity rules!

It’s hard to find an organization today that’s not focused on, or at least giving lip service to, diversity. But have you ever considered the cost to your organization of not having a diverse board? A recent study of for-profit boards found that diverse boards return a better ROI for investors. [See Board Diversification Strategy: Realizing Competitive Advantage and Shareowner Value]. The same is true for nonprofit boards.  Boards lacking diversity can make poor financial decisions, such as investing the bulk of their endowment with an investment manager  “everyone knows.” Boards lacking diversity can miss big opportunities to reach new communities, or create new partnerships.

So how can you create a more diverse board?

First, let’s define diversity. When I meet with boards on this topic, everyone’s first instinct is to think ethnicity and gender. These are important. But just as vital to decision-making are having people of diverse ages, life experiences, socio-economic backgrounds, even neighborhoods.

1. Range of Ages. The most common lack of diversity I see on boards is related to age. And the most common form of ageism I see is against younger people (which on boards tends to mean under- 35). Yet the views of the 18-35 set, and their facility with the internet and social media tools, makes them especially valuable on boards.

2. Varied Life Experiences. Another area where boards often lack diversity is in life experiences. That’s because so many people are recruited to boards by friends, business associates or college/grad school classmates. So if you have one corporate lawyer on your board, you’re likely to have two or more. That’s not to say anything against lawyers, but there is also diversity among types of legal expertise and it could benefit your board to have more than one kind.

3. Personal Attributes. A third area for boards to focus on when attaining diversity is a mix of personal styles and personality attributes. If you’re board is every color of the rainbow, if every person on it is a forceful leader, you’re going to have trouble filling your committees. By the same token, if everyone is a quiet, behind-the-scenes type of operator, you’ll have trouble finding a chair every year. You need a mix of several personality types to make a board fully functional.

4. Varied Connections. Finally, board diversity requires diverse community connections. One of the most overlooked areas for recruiting board members is among the clergy. Rabbis, priests, and ministers tend to know a lot of people in their communities, as well as other organizations that are making a difference there. That makes them great “connectors” to have on your board, irrespective of whether your organization has a religious mission.

Tapping diverse talents always leads to a stronger board. And a stronger board helps you avoid costly mistakes and deliver on your bottom line: the mission.

c 2009 Amy DeLouise, Amy DeLouise’s Blog

Stress Test Your Nonprofit

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This week, federal regulators plan to release the methods they are using for the “stress test” being applied to banks accepting TARP money. Non-profits should be developing their own stress test to assure soundness to funders, who are both private donors and the American taxpayer (by way of the gift of tax-exempt status).

Why should non-profits conduct a stress test of their own?

Despite signs that America’s economic engine may be coming out of a stall, non-profits have a long way to go before times get good again. There is a higher than ever demand for their services, especially in the social sector, as more and more people lose jobs and health care coverage. Donations continue to drop in many sectors. At the same time, new and existing donors must be assured that the charities they support can withstand more months of hardship.

Five Ways to Stress Test Your Nonprofit

1. Increase Transparency. Good governance is critical to success, but especially during lean times. Confirm that your board decision-making is fully transparent, documented and bench-marked. Especially decisions around executive compensation.

2. Ensure Sustainability. Confirm that your organization has sufficient cash-flow for ongoing operations. Some say have as much as one year’s operating capital on hand. This may not be realistic for smaller charities. Still, you should assess and update your working capital assumptions so that donors know you can deliver.

3. Assess Human Resources. Do you have the right people on the job? Evaluate staff capabilities through regular reviews, but also a build strong professional development program so that you are cultivating talents from within. Bringing along a promising staffer costs much less money than launching a search.

4. Engage the Board. During tough economic times, it’s also important to tap the talents on your board. And that means more than check-writing. Pair experienced board mentors with staff and newer board members. Leverage board connections wisely. Consider them a valuable resource for not only financial contacts, but also great volunteers, future board leaders, and important community connections. And most importantly, focus board members’ limited time on the tasks that will have the most impact for your mission.
5. Focus on Vision. When times are hard, it’s easy to get mired in the day-to-day and lose track of the overall vision of the institution. Whether your goal is a world without hunger, a river that is unpolluted, or a school where children thrive, keeping the vision front and center is critical to delivering results. Set up a regular “vision-checkup” for the organization so that staff and volunteers have a way to connect daily, weekly, monthly, and annually with the vision and know they are making a difference.

These are just a few ways the non-profit sector can ensure it uses donor funds wisely, including those of the American taxpayer.