Achieving Board Diversity and Inclusion

By Michael Davidson

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 (DEI) 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 will bring different points of view.

Your Commitment to Change

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

While having diverse points of view on a Board is finally receiving the attention it deserves, it is what Boards are required to do 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.”

Steps To A DEI Board Culture

  1. The first step is for the Board to have conversations within itself to understand your community segments that have legitimate interest in the achievement of your mission. A board coach can be brought in to aid the process. The people within those segments have a point of view about your work that needs to be heard. They can include clients, the community served, staff, funders, donors, and government reps.
  2. The Board needs to identify the value of having a diverse board and why different points of view are needed. For example you could establish an expectation that Board members interact on a regular basis with programs, staff, community, supporters, and clients served to understand their interests and needs.
  3. Next, develop a strategy to identify candidates whose lived experiences will enable them to best understand and express those other points of view. Your recruitment strategy must have specific objectives. Here’s Board Sources’ take on what your strategy could look like.
  4. The Board may also consider whether to adopt term limits in order to achieve its diversity objectives.

Developing a DEI Culture

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.

DEI Makes A Stronger Board

DEI work makes your organization stronger, more responsive, and true partners in the 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 board culture changes will be challenging, and they will take work but, the saying “if it was easy, they wouldn’t need us,” applies.


Michael Davidson is a longtime associate of LAPA Fundraising, an attorney, and is a consultant specializing in nonprofit board development, management support, leadership transition, and executive coaching for nonprofit managers. He has 30+ years of experience in nonprofit boards and managerial leadership. He has provided board training and retreat facilitation for 150+ nonprofits, enabling them to translate a passion for the mission into effective leadership. His website is

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