Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

July 2, 2007

Nonprofit boards lack diversity

Nonprofits talk a lot about diversity, but their boards overall fail to practice it, a failure that can hurt nonprofits’ ability to serve their constituents and raise money, a new study says.

“There is a disturbing level of insularity among nonprofit boards that is at odds with their public-service mandate,” says Francie Ostrower, who prepared the study for the Urban Institute.

Based on responses from CEOs or executive directors of over 5,100 public charities with at least $25,000 in annual revenues, the study found 51 percent of nonprofit boards have only white, non-Hispanic members.

No blacks serve on the boards of 18 percent of nonprofits for which over half the clients are black, while no Hispanics serve on the boards of 32 percent of nonprofits for which over half the clients are Hispanics.

For nonprofits overall, 86 percent of board members are non-Hispanic whites, 7 percent are black, and the remainder are from other ethnic groups.

While 94 percent of boards include women, women on average represent 46 percent of boards.
And boards of bigger, wealthier nonprofits tend to draw more heavil6y from members of elite groups, the study says.

The percentage of board members who also serve on corporate boards totals 80 percent among bigger nonprofits, for example, compared to 31 percent among the smallest nonprofits.

Fifty-one percent of the nonprofit executives surveyed gave their boards poor or fair marks for fundraising, and for monitoring their own performance.

To more effectively serve their clients and donors, nonprofits need to work hard to engage them and include them in meaningful ways in the work of their boards and their organizations.
And diversity alone, as measured in numbers, is not enough.

The goal should be to be truly inclusive, truly open to the ideas and participation of all constituencies the organizations serve.


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