Creating Conversations About Board Diversity

MaximilianEyleMaximilianEyle Posts: 14 ✭✭✭
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For several years, we have asked our grantees to share information about who sits on their board and whether it reflects the community they serve. Our application includes a board diversity grid for them to use, but importantly it is designed for board members to self-identify. We want to avoid the applicant filling out the grid themselves and only putting down the sums of each category (like "3 veterans, 5 non-veterans, etc."). Our goal is to spark a conversation among the board while also measuring where they are at in terms of their current makeup.

My question is this: how have you navigated this challenge? The grid we created feels outdated and is also cumbersome from a design standpoint. What ways to do use to assess this with your applicants?


  • TracyLarimerTracyLarimer Posts: 45 ✭✭✭
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    edited February 2022

    @MaximilianEyle Exponent Philanthropy recently (February 9) posted actionable ideas around board diversity and also has a "Advocacy Field Guide for Lean Funders." The field guide is a paid resource ($35 for EP members, $50 for non-members) but the ideas in the initial blog is open/not behind a paywall.

    This doesn't necessarily answer your question (how to create a grid to track diversity) but hopefully adds some value!

    Tracy Larimer | Foundant| Bozeman, MT | she / her / hers |

  • JulieKlippJulieKlipp Posts: 121 ✭✭✭
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    We report our board demographics on Guidestar and encourage other funders and grantees to do the same. That way grantees don't have to fill out a different board diversity grid for each different funder. Also, if we're not reporting our board demographics it doesn't seem fair to ask grantees to do so.

  • MaximilianEyleMaximilianEyle Posts: 14 ✭✭✭
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    edited February 2022

    Thanks for sharing this information. Exponent has some wonderful resources about this subject and I definitely agree that Guidestar is a helpful tool for capturing and tracking this data. As we work on new ways to gather this information from applicants, we have actually begun sharing our own board demographics on our website to aid transparency:

  • TomWickershamTomWickersham Posts: 82 ✭✭✭
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    This is a good conversation, and one that I don't have any answers for ... only questions. @MaximilianEyle, how do you use this information in grant award decisions? Do you assign scores to a certain number of checkmarks? Is there a point at which the level of diversity on a board is considered "passable"? Do you ask about staff hiring practices? Unconscious bias training for volunteers? I don't really need to know these answers--I'm just putting them out there to demonstrate that it seems like a lot to ask of an agency around one small detail.

    I recently applied for a grant myself (another hat I wear), and was asked to provide this sort of information. I felt it was an undue burden on me as an applicant. Had I been asked to fill out the chart you've shared, I just may have opted to apply at all!

    From a trust-based approach, could you ask a question like "In what ways are you striving to ensure your board reflects your community?"

    Just thinking out loud here.

    As a comparison, we don't ask applicants about board makeup. However, we are tracking and maintaining a list of BIPOC led and serving agencies in our area. (See here.) We can then reference this when reviewing applications without having to ask each applicant each year about these details.

    Good luck with tacking this issue. I know there's no easy answer!


  • MaximilianEyleMaximilianEyle Posts: 14 ✭✭✭
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    Hi @TomWickersham! Thanks for your feedback, you definitely raise some excellent questions and points to consider. Since we posted this query back in October of last year, we have been working steadily on addressing this issue and have made some exciting progress in updating the DEI portion of our application.

    In fact, we are actually going to be doing a presentation on this subject at the Foundant Summit in Memphis in April! We will share the ways in which we track this data among grantees, the questions we ask on our application, and the additional programming we do to help diversify nonprofit boards across our region.

    One key point includes strategies to tie our measurement of representation back to the population receiving services as opposed to enforcing a single, static idea of what diversity looks like. For example, we would like to see that an organization that provides services to teen moms has leadership on their board that either is or was a teen mom themselves. At the same time that we work with our grantees to guide them in the right direction, we also provide workshops and trainings for community members to prepare them for board service and consequently increase the pool of qualified board candidates from many walks of life.

    Regarding your question around scoring applicants, I would say that we try to place the most emphasis on progress and intentionality. Rather than drawing a hard line in the sand, we try to be transparent about our expectations and make it clear to grantees when we think their leadership lacks proper representation. If they come back to us for the next round of funding and have not made any changes, that will certainly reduce the likelihood that their proposal will move forward. On the other hand, if they have made good faith efforts to address the concerns we laid out - that will count in their favor.

    If you plan on attending the Summit, we hope you will come visit us during our talk! If not, feel free to contact me directly and we will be happy to share any of our resources with you.

  • TomWickershamTomWickersham Posts: 82 ✭✭✭
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    I wish I could attend the summit. (Note to conference organizers: You'll never get folks who have a notable scholarship program to go anywhere in April!). I hope the presentation goes well. I will certainly follow up with you after to continue the conversation!

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