Building board diversity

Learn how to diversify your nonprofit’s board of directors


click to enlarge Building board diversity

Through my work as the director of statewide partnerships at Forefront, I’ve seen firsthand that a governing board with diverse perspectives is critically important for nonprofits in Springfield. Forefront is the nation’s only statewide membership association for nonprofits and grantmakers, and we know from years of experience that when nonprofit boards reflect the diversity of their communities, organizations will be better able to harness the support of potential donors and collaborate with partners and policy makers.

Promoting collective action through advancing racial equity is a critical issue for Springfield’s nonprofit community, and we are excited to partner with an incredible group of local leaders to strengthen our total impact. Last fall, Forefront partnered with John Kelker, president and CEO at United Way, and W.G. Robinson-McNeese, M.D., system executive director for diversity initiatives for SIU School of Medicine, to introduce a new effort to increase diversity among board members at our local nonprofit organizations: the Building Board Diversity (BBD) initiative. Raychel Yokem, a member of the corporate social responsibility committee at Horace Mann, is serving as the chair.

The purpose of BBD is twofold. First, to help the nonprofit community by providing the training and resources needed to ensure board leadership is a reflection of our community. Secondly, BBD wants to provide board governance training to prospective new board members to ensure they are equipped with the knowledge and understanding of boardroom fundamentals.

One of the initial goals of BBD was to provide our nonprofit executive directors with a series of trainings on unconscious biases, micro-aggressions, and looking at diversity through an asset-based lens versus a deficit one. Future trainings and discussions will get into the mechanics of looking at the culture of their current boards and conducting assessments to measure a board’s strengths and where it needs help to improve.

By sparking these conversations in the boardroom, organizations can discuss and prioritize what the board should look like in the future, considering a variety of qualities, skills, spectrum of life experiences, contacts and professional and personal backgrounds that will be most helpful to the organization.

BBD is looking to have a meaningful conversation about what is happening in our community, the current representation of our boards and a commitment to act toward progress. There is still a lot of work to be done to determine the overall goals of BBD, but the group is moving in the right direction. We encourage all executive directors of Springfield nonprofits to join us for our monthly meetings where these issues and more are discussed and tackled.

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