As a companion report to our most recent Leading with Intent: BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices report, we took a look at the findings related to diversity, equity, and inclusion to understand to what extent boards are reflective of the communities they are seeking to serve, how boards are thinking about racial inequity in relation to the organization’s mission and programmatic outcomes, and board practices related to diversity, equity, and inclusion

In Leading with Intent: Reviewing the State of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on Nonprofit Boards, we explore the findings and provide context for the data to help inform your own racial equity journeys as you seek to become more equity-focused individuals, boards, and organizations in the communities in which you live and serve.

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Key findings from the report include:

  1. Boards may be getting slightly more diverse, but they are far from representing the communities they serve.

    While the study does not have a steady sample and therefore comparisons to past surveys are challenging, it is encouraging that the boards surveyed in 2019 included a higher percentage of people of color than in the previous study (22% versus 16% in 2017). That said, only 38 percent of executives felt that their boards represented the communities they serve, and 66 percent of executives expressed dissatisfaction with their boards’ racial and ethnic diversity. It is also noteworthy that only 29% of board chairs felt that their boards represented the communities they serve, and 45% of board chairs expressed dissatisfaction with the boards’ racial and ethnic diversity.

  2. Board recruitment practices are not aligned with diversity goals.

    Demographic diversity is a high priority in recruitment for only a quarter of boards (26%); thirty percent of boards reported that it is “low or not a priority.” This would seem to indicate that, without greater emphasis and focus, boards are unlikely to become significantly more diverse. This is further affirmed by the finding that “even within the subset of chief executives that report that racial and ethnic diversity is important to their board’s external leadership and that they are dissatisfied with their board’s current racial and ethnic diversity,” only half have aligned their board recruitment practices with their diversity goals.

  3. Boards that include people of color are more likely to have adopted diversity, equity, and inclusion practices than boards that do not include people of color.

    High percentages of executives and board chairs agree that their boards have (to “some or a great extent”) engaged in the introductory aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion work, including committing to understanding the diversity of the communities their organizations serve and discussing community needs in a way that acknowledges any disparities between different demographic groups among the people it serves. However, both executives and board chairs report significantly lower levels of engagement in areas that go beyond the initial phases of understanding and apply more directly to the organization’s mission, work, and communities they serve, such as:

  • Committing to raising its awareness and understanding of the relevance of racial inequity to the organization’s mission;
  • Discussing the organization’s programmatic outcomes in a way that would surface meaningful variances based on demographics; and
  • Committing to addressing any gaps in organizational outcomes based on demographic categories.

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