What’s the most effective way to get more diversity on a board?

By United Way of King County Posted on April 22, 2014 In News

Guest blogger and Online Volunteer Specialist at United Way, Carly Bartz-Overman, shares her take on the complicated issue of diversity on nonprofit boards.

Have you guys ever read Nonprofit with Balls? If not, you’re missing out on a magnificent mix of nonprofit jokes and blog posts with titles like “10 Game of Thrones quotes you can use at work”. Even better: Vu Le also writes about the day to day reality of working at a nonprofit. The successes, the struggles, the shining promise of free food…

Anywho, Le recently wrote about the trap nonprofits can fall into when they look for a simple solution to a complicated challenge: What’s the most effective way to get more diversity on a board? Reaching out to people of color and asking them to join your Board, or identifying some of the barriers that can keep people of color for joining Boards in the first place and then addressing those barriers? The simplest solution (obviously) is to simply invite a few people of color to serve, but I for one am wearing a little thin on the Band-Aid solution when stitches are clearly in order.

Well, here United Way we are working on the more complicated solution of identifying barriers in place and then figuring out how to address them. One of the barriers identified is board training, and United Way has a 22 year old program (I know, right?!) that works to address this issue. Project LEAD is a program created to not only increase the percentage of people of color who serve on boards, but is designed to also prepare participants for the challenges that go along with board service. With topics ranging from the mundane -‘Fiscal Management’, to the complicated- ‘Dialogue on Race’, Project LEAD strives to ensure that its graduates are ready to hit the ground running when they find a board they want to serve on.

Project LEAD doesn’t solve all the barriers that can keep people of color from joining boards, but it’s a piece of the larger solution and I’m proud that United Way continues to invest in it after two decades.

Side note: Vu Le, the author of Nonprofit with Balls, is a Project Lead graduate. Now I’m not saying that all Project LEAD graduates will come out of the program with the same grasp of humor and writing prowess that Le has, but I’m certainly thinking it loudly…


May 28, 2014

Thanks for the shoutout, Carly, and for highlighting this issue. I enjoyed Project LEAD immensely and still apply much of what I learned. We absolutely need more programs like this.

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