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Developing DEI in Nonprofit Board Governance

To develop diversity, equity, and inclusion at nonprofits, commitment is needed from the board of directors.
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There’s no question—our nation is changing.

Data from the 2020 Census Bureau provides a snapshot of the racial and ethnic composition of the United States. From 2010 to 2020, the nation’s multiracial population increased by a whopping 276%, while the White alone population declined by 8.6%. According to the report, Asians, Hispanics, Blacks, and other racial minorities will make up a majority of the country’s population by 2050.

Other changes in our nation have brought about a public call for all companies, including charitable and tax-exempt entities, to take a stand on important social issues.

As cities and the nation become more diverse, it is critical that nonprofit leadership represent the diversity of their communities and those they serve.

Diversity is a key component to organizational success, yet true change will not occur without an understanding and a commitment at the highest level—the board of directors.

What Is a Diverse Board?

A diverse board has a balance of members from varying backgrounds, connections, and experiences. This mix can lead to better decision making, extended partnerships, and an improved ability to respond effectively to social changes.

Homogeneous boards have a narrow worldview and are in danger of groupthink. Heterogeneous boards, ones with members representing various backgrounds and perspectives, are more likely to welcome fresh ideas and try innovative approaches to problem solving.

What Is an Equitable Board?

Equity differs from equality. Equality assumes that everyone should be treated the same. Equity takes into consideration specific circumstances and adjusts treatment accordingly so the end result is as equal as possible.

An equitable board is one where every member has equal opportunities to provide input. For example, an individual with a disability shouldn’t be excluded from participation in meetings or events because of their circumstance.

What Is an Inclusive Board?

Inclusion refers to the degree to which organizations embrace all individuals and enable them to make meaningful contributions.

Inclusive boards develop a culture of trust and respect and encourage open sharing of ideas and perspectives—even if they differ from those of the majority.

Moving Forward

One of the first steps toward a more diverse board is understanding why diversity is important and incorporating that into recruitment.

According to BoardSource’s 2021 Leading with Intent national study,1 organizations that clearly articulate their desired composition of diverse skills, connections, and needs have much greater recruiting success than organizations that fail to take this initial step.

Building a diverse, equitable, and inclusive board requires a deep understanding that racial justice and equity are fundamental to achieving the organization’s mission.


Boards can solidify their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) by adding statements of belief into their governing documents and policies.

Incorporating DEI statements into documents and bylaws demonstrates a firm commitment and a willingness to be held accountable. Once established, such position statements should be integral to every aspect of the operation, including programs and services, marketing and fundraising, and recruitment and evaluation of staff, board, and volunteers.

Adding DEI provisions is a great way to make a public declaration that your organization values diversity.


To truly understand DEI, boards should invest time into elevating their awareness and understanding of historical and current disparities and injustices in their community and among those they serve.

This is especially true given the fact that, according to numerous national studies, the vast majority of nonprofit CEOs and board chairs are white and mid to upper class.

Conducting a DEI assessment is a good way to understand the board’s current position and what it hopes to achieve.


Recruitment is typically the primary responsibility of the governance or nominating committee. A starting point for these committees is to answer two questions:

  1. What kind of organization does this community need us to be today?
  2. What kind of board members do we need to be that organization?

The answer to the first question implies that as the community and people you serve change, so should the organization. What worked five, 10, or 20 years ago may no longer be effective. The changes may not alter the mission and vision but may require modifying the methods or approaches used.

The answer to the second question should include an examination of the board’s composition in terms of diverse thinking, experience, background, and expertise. A useful tool in this process is a board matrix. This is a simple tool that categorizes current members’ competencies, demographics, skills, etc., and helps assess gaps and needs.

DEI strategies should include a commitment to forming partnerships with minority-focused organizations and using vendors that prioritize diversity and inclusion. These relations could help identify prospective board candidates.

The recruitment strategy should be reviewed and approved by the full board.

Monitoring Progress

Like all important areas of the organization, benchmark indicators of DEI success are needed. Progress monitoring and assessment can help the organization stay on track. Markers can include the number or percentage of diverse members added to the board and committees, the increased number of connections with new community partners, and the number of DEI trainings completed.

Professionals at FORVIS can help your organization in the creation of a tailored plan to help implement DEI-based practices and policies. Please reach out if you have any questions or need assistance.

  • 1“Leading with Intent: BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practices,”, 2021.

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