Who’s Got the Power to Shape the Future of Nonprofit Boards? You do!

Thank you National Council of Nonprofits for Sharing: 

We always look forward to the publication of BoardSource’s Leading with Intent report because it provides a snapshot of how boards of directors are changing over time, along with smart analysis about what makes boards effective and why various governance practices matter. The results for the 2017 survey show few surprises and largely confirm what has been known: There has been a steady shrinking in the average size of nonprofit boards for quite a few years. Chief executives thrive as leaders when their boards support them. Term limits are now a recognized “best practice.” There is a high correlation between “social time” that board members spend building trust and strengthening their personal relationships, and the satisfaction that board members have in their volunteer service. What’s a little harder to measure, as BoardSource concedes, is the impact boards have on organizational effectiveness. But it’s pretty clear that dysfunction in the board room, and/or confusion about board roles, create potholes that even the most effective organization will fall into at some point. None of this is surprising.


What is a bit surprising, and definitely disappointing, is that the 2017 data also illustrate the lack of progress charitable nonprofits and foundations have made in diversifying their governing boards – in spite of a full-court press on this issue by many national nonprofit thought-leaders, grantmakers, and many others who have been researching and writing about the benefits of a diverse decision-making body. We say only “a bit surprising” because the data are consistent with earlier research presented in Race to Lead, a report focusing on race and leadership in the nonprofit sector.


Especially intriguing in BoardSource’s 2017 data is the difference in the perspectives of CEOs/executive directors (who believe that their boards are not diverse enough) and those of board chairs, who, in comparison, seem complacent about the lack of diversity on their boards. Given that the data also show that nonprofit leaders WANT more diversity, readers may be wondering, “What’s stopping boards from becoming more diverse?” and “How do we get to the desired future?” Leading With Intent, along with Race to Lead, both offer some consistent answers, including: The key to more diversity on nonprofit boards is definitely in the hands of boards themselves!


In an effort to provide practical, useful tips for nonprofit staff and board members who hold this key, see the suggestions in our blog post “10 Steps to a More Diverse Board.” Please let us know what you think.


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