Achieving Board Diversity and Inclusion

This is a critical time in our history as we finally begin to acknowledge our national failure to take seriously our commitment to equity and the strength we derive from our diversity. Implementing the values of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion carries some special challenges for Boards of Directors. Specifically they will need to:

  • Commit to the importance of implementing these values by including members who bring diverse perspectives
  • Create a Board environment that will genuinely welcome and include members who, by definition, will bring different points of view.

Developing a commitment to change

It is a legal responsibility of the Board to steward the achievement of the organization’s Vision and Mission, This requires that it understand and value the interests and needs of its diverse stakeholders in the achievement of that vision and mission.

While having diverse points of view on a Board is finally receiving the attention it deserves, it is what Boards should always have been doing to fulfill their legal Duty of Obedience.

“The board is responsible for assuring that the organization acts in compliance with its mission, By Laws and legal responsibilities.”

The first step is for the Board to have conversations within itself to understand the various community segments that have legitimate interest in the achievement of the mission and how it can bring their points of view into its work (Stakeholders include clients, the community served, staff, funders, donors, government, etc.)

The Board needs to identify the value of having a diverse board and the points of view that are needed.  From there it can develop a strategy to identify candidates whose lived experiences will enable them to best understand and express those other points of view.

A preface to this work could be to establish an expectation that Board members interact on a regular basis with programs, staff, community, supporters and individuals served to understand their interests and needs.

The commitment to diversity should be expressed in a recruitment strategy with specific objectives. The Board may also need to consider whether to adopt term limits in order to achieve its diversity objectives

Developing a culture of inclusion

To make diversity effective, the Board will need to develop practices that assure the inclusion of new voices in its work. Development of these practices may need to begin with making sure that there is true inclusion of the diversity that it already has.

There may also be a need to strengthen the board as a team by providing opportunities for board members to know one another personally.

Boards may need training to help them understand the challenges to genuine inclusion and to be able to evaluate the inclusion experience of board members.


Doing this work will make organizations stronger, more responsive and true partners in our quest to achieve a more just society. It will also deepen the commitment of board members to one another and to the organization they serve.

These culture changes will be challenging and will take hard work but, as is said, “if it was easy, they wouldn’t need us.”

Michael Davidson is a consultant specializing in nonprofit board development, management support, leadership transition, and executive coaching for nonprofit managers.  He has over 30 years experience in nonprofit board and managerial leadership and has provided board training and retreat facilitation for more than 150 nonprofit organizations, enabling them to translate passion for the mission into effective leadership strategies.   


He is the former Chair of Governance Matters, designed and led the Board Candidate Training for the Board Serve NYC program of the United Way of New York City, is a member of the Selection Committee for the New York Community Trust Nonprofit Excellence Awards and is the lead NYC trainer for the Board Lead program of Cause Strategy. He is also a member of the faculty of the Adelphi University Nonprofit Management Certificate Program.


 He has been a Peace Corps Volunteer, an Assistant Professor of Anthropology, an Assistant District Attorney and an attorney in private practice. He holds a BS in mathematics from New York State University College on Long Island, a JD from Columbia Law School and an M. Ph in Anthropology from Yale University.

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