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Part 2: Practice Equity Daily


3. Nurture A Diverse, Equity-minded Board

Along with an equity-minded workforce, you’ll need your board’s support. In this section, you’ll find guidance for engaging with board members and identifying the ways that race, equity and inclusion relate to their core responsibility to steward your mission.

  • Encourage Equity-Mindedness Among Current Board Members
  • Reconsider “Ideal” Board Member Profiles
  • Engage Members Meaningfully
  • Identify Opportunities To Apply Equity-Mindedness To Core Board Responsibilities

Encourage Equity-mindedness Among Current Board Members

Equity-minded board members are people who are

  • Committed to race, diversity, equity and inclusion as an ongoing priority, not a short-term initiative
  • Willing to learn and share about how race, diversity, equity and inclusion matter to them as individuals as well as the organization
  • Able to learn about and communicate in ways that reflect the needs of underrepresented segments of your community
  • Willing to address these issues as part of their role as a board member, including:
    • Formal assessments of the board and organization’s culture to identify strengths and barriers to inclusion
    • Action planning to address discriminatory or non-inclusive behaviors and help the board become more diverse, equitable and inclusive
    • Recruitment efforts that engage underrepresented demographics
    • Building organizational policies that address race, diversity, equity and inclusio n
  • Consistent in volunteering at events that enhance their understanding of community perspectives (staff, corporate partners)

Reconsider “ideal” Board Member Profiles

Typically, a first step in building a more diverse, inclusive and equitable board is to reconsider the kinds of contributions you want its members to make. Traditionally, they’re selected for their ability to contribute to one or more of the three W’s: work, wisdom, or wealth. Often, the definition of each “w” is fairly narrow.

Ask Yourself:

what kinds of work could be contributed by your board members? What sources of wisdom are you tapping? Remember that credentials and job-related knowledge are not the only forms of wisdom that matter for our ability to Living United. How could a more diverse set of board members—and a set of board members who reflect your community more fully—expand the wisdom about your community and the hidden assets that you could mobilize?

United Way is built on the belief that people in every income bracket are generous and can add to powerful community outcomes. As you look for board members who can contribute from their wealth, stretch yourself beyond your usual donors. How could people who are supporting grassroots philanthropy through civic associations, self-help organizations and giving circles become powerful assets on your board?

In the workbook, you’ll find worksheets to help you assess your current mix of board members and work with them to identify gaps and areas for growth.

Set Goals And Cast A Wide Net

Work with your board to identify a useful mix of skills, perspectives, experiences and backgrounds for an ideal board composition, building on the ideas about board member profiles above. Then do an inventory of your current board members. (Ask them to self-identify rather than guess at their demographics!) With a shared awareness of any gaps, you’re ready to set some goals and build a plan to expand the diversity of your board.

Recruit, interview and welcome new board members mindfully

Depending on your by-laws, you may have more or less formal requirements for your board member selection process. Regardless, you’ll want to take a structured, disciplined approach to recruiting, interviewing and onboarding new board members. If you only rely on relationships within existing networks, you’re likely to reproduce the same combination of gifts and the same set of gaps in your overall board composition.

If you don’t have job descriptions for your board members and descriptions for leadership positions, that’s a good place to start. Make sure expectations for the roles are explicit and prospective board members have an opportunity to reflect on them. Be very intentional about creating ongoing opportunities for board members to get to know each other’s individual skills, backgrounds and gifts. The more “social distance” between board members in their day-to-day lives, the more you’ll need to pay attention to this in the context of board meetings and activities. Otherwise, the stereotypes and power dynamics of the wider society are likely to manifest in your board as well.

Engage Members Meaningfully

As discussed in the organizational culture and staff sections of this practice guide, board members also need meaningful opportunities to help make decisions, form strategy and shape culture. It’s not enough to ask people to “come be just like us.” They need the organization to be open to rethinking what it does and how based on their insights and experience. Often, this requires specific shifts in board meeting culture and processes. If you want to avoid tokenizing board members of color or board members from other marginalized groups.

  • Be sure your meetings feature ample time for discussion and exchanges of ideas, not just presentations and votes
  • Encourage diverse board members to step into leadership roles and make sure they can actually exercise the power that goes with the role
  • Encourage their active participation in all aspects of the board’s work, not just on topics that seem most relevant based on their race or other aspects of their identity
  • Make sure diverse members are full voting board members, not just participants in consumer (or other) advisory councils
  • Avoid asking Black, Indigenous and other people of color to be the only public spokespeople for the organization if the paid staff leadership are largely or all White
  • Make sure all board members have the information they need to participate fully in decision-making discussions; this could include offering training or briefings on any highly technical matters that are beyond their core expertise outside of full board meetings
  • Deepen board members’ cultural competency (i.e., understanding of community issues and data, especially related to communities of color and other historically disadvantaged populations)
  • Create time for board members to get to know one another and each other’s perspectives
  • Provide meaningful opportunities for exposure to different perspectives based on the lived experiences of community members
  • Build capacity to lead on the issues residents care most about (impact, policy/advocacy, partnerships, resource development) and create more fair and equitable communities

Identify opportunities to apply equity-mindedness to core board responsibilities

Board members typically share a common set of responsibilities. Ask board leaders and committee members to consider how race, equity and inclusion matter for each of the following aspects of the board’s ongoing work, including:

  • Establish mission, direction
  • Ensure resources including raising funds and securing other resources)
  • Policy making
  • Major decision making
  • Oversite, including legal, fiscal and oversite of CEO/Executive Director
  • Self-renewal of the board through active recruitment
  • Serving as ambassadors to the wider community and identifying partners