I’ve been fortunate enough to serve on local and national boards for the past eight years. During these years, I feel I have seen a bigger shift in thought for Japanese American leadership to be more inclusive and diverse. For any organization that I worked or volunteered with, this shift became instantly useful.
Benefits of Board Diversity
Because of different viewpoints and experiences, a board is able to hear from more community voices. It's beneficial for boards to break out of any echo chambers and identify more opportunities and risks.
Expanding Networks and Donors
When a board can incorporate new voices and better reflect the community they are serving, they can access more connections, donors, and community partners.
As the world continues to change, it is important that an organization stays moving. Bringing in new community members and constantly cultivating new members not only keeps the leadership strong, but it also helps retain membership within an organization. To get community investment, you must invest in the community! Allowing for new voices or marginalized voices to be heard can create programs and services that best serve various minorities within our own community.
Questions to Ask
After working with board fellows through Kizuna’s fellowship program and from my own observations within the various committees and organizations I volunteer at, it is clear that diversity (whether it be within the board or entire organization), is a hot topic. According to a 2017 nonprofit board study, even though many organizations would like to incorporate more diversity, it is not necessarily a priority. I get it! On top of fundraising, networking, and our own personal lives, it is tough to even find time to fully discuss and create a strategy to identify and cultivate diverse board members. However, because of the above-mentioned benefits, it is crucial that we are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating our board makeup so we can continue to identify and cultivate members in our community that we are serving, but do not have a seat at the table.
Most boards review and discuss board matrices or board makeup at least once a year. Although it can seem a charged and difficult conversation, reviewing your board matrix can be a great way to engage your board for board recruitment. As mentioned above, many organizations are making an active effort to diversify their leadership, and it’s exciting to see. We can always do more, so here are some questions to help you and your organizations discuss how you can continue to have an inclusive and diverse board.
Who are we serving? Are they represented in various parts of the organization? (Committees, board positions, volunteer heads, etc.)
When I was working on programs, it was important to consult with the target population I wanted to reach. For example, if I wanted to do a fundraising event that targeted college students, I would go to a few different college-age students and ask them what they like to purchase and what they like to support. For boards to have discussions about their organization and the needs of their respective community, it is important to have your target population represented within different roles of leadership in your organization.
In our organizations today, do we see more of an “us” serving “them” relationship? Or are the people we are serving part of that discussion?
What skills are we lacking on our board?
Rather than asking your board what jobs do we need to be done (I usually hear people needing to find a CPA), ask yourselves what skills you’d like in a new member. I learned this early on in my nonprofit career thanks to the amazing Deborah Ching. One of my first sessions with her (at the Kizuna Board Fellowship) was to find people who had the skill sets we wanted because most professionals don’t necessarily want to spend their free time doing what they do for work.
Instead of looking for a CPA or a financial analyst, look for someone who asks detailed questions, is eager to learn, and has done their own personal budgets (or a department budget) before. Compile a set of skills your board has and add to your matrix what more you may need (strong communicator, strategic thinker, visionary, etc.).
What minorities within our own community are we missing? Am I continuously asking the same person to represent an entire population?
This question may be one of the harder ones to discuss, but it is crucial. Take a serious look at your board and leadership -- do the people you see represent all the voices within our community? Ask yourselves if you need more women, LGBTQ+, age ranges, ethnicities/races, etc.
Another way to approach the subject is to note if you’re asking the same person to answer questions about an entire population. I would often get asked about the Shin-Nikkei, youth, and Japanese Latin American communities. It’s great if your board has some diversity, but always better if you have varying viewpoints within those demographics. I could have a very different perspective about sake tasting as a fundraiser for youth than someone who is the same age as me. That’s the goal of board meetings - to thoroughly discuss and come to the best decision for anything brought to the board.
Are we currently an echo chamber of thoughts? Who can we recruit to add more insight or opinions on various matters?
If your entire board never “fights” or disagrees with one another, you need to think about diversity. The most dangerous time for a board is when everyone starts agreeing with one another, and there’s never any contention over decisions. It is a board’s duty to seriously think about all the opportunities and risks that a decision can have on the organization, to easily agree to anything can be a detriment to the organization.
This does not mean a constantly bickering board is the goal, but rather a board that fully discusses concerns, in a constructive (not toxic) manner. Everyone’s voice is valid and equal at board meetings.
Are our current board requirements making it difficult to diversify?
If your board wants to recruit someone who would add valuable insight to your organization but a financial barrier is preventing them from doing so, I would reconsider your board requirements. If you are aiming for an inclusive board, check every year (when you review your board matrix) to make sure that any requirements you have are not affecting your ability to recruit valuable voices to your organization.
In general, it is always difficult to recruit new board members. Adding a new layer of diversity can make the job even more daunting, but it is worth it. At the end of the day, all of our organizations want to see our communities continue to do better and to thrive, and working towards an inclusive and diverse community at all levels (especially within leadership) will help us get there. Practicing these actions, and then evaluating and re-evaluating them every year will not mean instant impact and change overnight. However, they will allow our community to create an environment for ongoing adaptation and community engagement, ensuring an open door for new leaders to ensure that not only our work but the work from generations before can carry on.