PMA Consulting, LLC

Building Strategic and Diverse Nonprofit Boards: PMA Participates in a Valuable Workshop

Patton McDowell & Associates recently participated in a timely and highly effective workshop, sponsored by the Arts & Science Council and facilitated by BoardSource – a national, nonprofit resource on board-related content.  The workshop was designed to enable nonprofit staff and existing board members to “move beyond political correctness and cultivate a diverse board.”  While last week’s intended audience were members of the cultural community, the program’s objectives were clearly applicable across all nonprofit sectors:

  • Gain insights from research on nonprofit board diversity and inclusion
  • Explore board culture – attitudes and biases
  • Discuss the benefits of valuing diversity and inclusiveness
  • Identify leading strategies for building an inclusive board

BoardSourceAs is the case with any effective workshop, our friends from BoardSource approached the subject matter with a hypothesis in hand – In order to function at the highest level, nonprofit boards need to ensure that their members represent diverse points of view.  It is not enough, however, to “diversify” a board; boards must be inclusive in their policies and practices, thereby creating a culture that encourages and nurtures diverse expression.”

Coming away from this discussion, PMA uncovered three key headlines:

  1. The pursuit of a diverse board is not a tactical or logistical discussion, but rather a discussion about adapting the culture of the organization – and by extension the board and its practices and policies – to achieve real inclusion
  2. The act of adapting the culture relates, not only to board inclusion, but to board recruitment and development in general
  3. If boards fail to accept headlines 1 & 2, they may inevitably fail to achieve real inclusion and other critical aspects of board recruitment and development

These headlines resonate with PMA and the organizations we serve, reflecting similar notions from our past blogs including a piece entitled, Board Enlistment: The Reality of the Board Matrix.  In this blog, we note that many local nonprofits rush to identify, recruit, elect and orient new board members in an effort to address a growing tension over vacant board seats and a decline in organizational health.  Unfortunately, they often do so at the risk of creating a generic checklist of needs that do not necessarily reflect their organization’s unique strengths, challenges, opportunities and threats, and often in substitution of other meaningful practices:

  • Establishing year-round board development efforts
  • Aligning recruitment with emerging priorities and your long-range plans
  • Assessing the current board
  • Clarifying roles and responsibilities

The board matrix is an effective tool, but only if utilized thoughtfully and grounded in the reality of the nonprofit organization for which it is intended.  Likewise, the pursuit of a diverse board is critical but only in the context of achieving a cultural shift in how you engage your members, where inclusion is more than a list of unique names and demographics on a roster.  Take the time to understand your organization’s culture and to construct an infrastructure that will, not only attain, but also sustain future board members and their strategic goals.