A Thoughtful Approach to Diversifying Your Nonprofit Board

Diversity is not a two-dimensional subject. There are lots of ways to define diversity, and organizations that truly value diversity recognize that everyone brings value to the table. 

That’s the takeaway from Tracy McCabe (LMR Class of 2012), Brian Jackson (LMR Class of 1996) and Rob Jones (LMR Class of 2003), three LMR alumni who serve as directors on the board of Virginia Credit Union. 

In the Richmond area, many nonprofit organizations have effectively expanded the racial diversity of their boards. But it’s important for organizations to look at diversity through other lenses, such as gender and age, and to consider under-represented groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community. 

“Nonprofits typically recruit people who are older, because seeking and securing donations is a primary motivation”, says Brian. But nonprofits also need people who are willing to engage. “There are lots of 25-year-olds with energy and ideas. They are starting to speak up and speak out, and the nonprofits that benefit will be those that offer them a place to get involved and contribute.” 

A thoughtful approach 
Organizations must be thoughtful as they expand the diversity of their boards. “No one wants to be asked to serve in order to check a box or plug some kind of hole,” says Tracy. “But if you truly want my voice, then let’s talk.” 

Brian often talks of diversity in terms of “the people in the room.” “If everybody in the room looks the same, then you’re more likely to recruit more people that fit that same profile. You’re going to continue to get the same dynamic. If you’ve never had someone from another racial-ethnic group at your dinner table, in your home, with you on vacation, or out on the golf course, then your efforts are going to fall short.”  

If an organization is committed to diversity and its members make an honest effort to expand their friends, their acquaintances, their circle of influence, then greater diversity will naturally follow.  

Expanding skills 
“At times a board may be looking to attract someone with a particular skill set,” notes Brian, “and that can be good and bad. A lawyer, a doctor, or someone with a background in finance may actually want a departure from what they do 24/7. They may have other interests, like marketing or advocacy, they want to explore. It’s important that organizations allow for that.” 

Virginia Credit Union 
Virginia Credit Union has one of the most diverse boards that Tracy, Brian or Rob have ever served. About 10 years ago, the board did not fully represent the diversity of the membership. That’s no longer the case. 

“We’ve been intentional,” says Rob, who currently serves as board chair. “Over the years, we’ve done a good job expanding our board by asking, ‘Who is the right person?’ In other words, we took care of diversity, but we didn’t set out only looking for that.” 

Among corporate and nonprofit boards, VACU is a bit of a hybrid. VACU is a large and complex institution with more than $3.5 billion in assets and 320,000 members. At the same time, as a not-for-profit financial cooperative, every person on the board is a credit union member who serves as a volunteer. 

“We focused quite intentionally on expanding the pool of people being considered, and that has led to greater diversity. But we didn’t get there by aiming for a particular demographic or group,” says Rob. 

Leadership Metro Richmond 
LMR is a great resource for organizations that want to diversify their board makeup. Not only the Leadership Quest experience, but also the continued engagement, which allows you to maintain a broad set of connections in the community. “Even if you’ve never met someone, if they’ve been through LMR, you sense that they are willing to consider these questions for the good of the community,” says Rob.  

The LMR Board Connector is a helpful resource for finding and making community connections and exploring board service opportunities. We also encourage you to join LMR and Alice Korngold for Developing Business Leaders & Advancing DEI Through Effective Nonprofit Board Service on April 26th to learn more about this topic. 

Glenn Birch 
LMR Class of 2013 
Director of Public Relations 
Virginia Credit Union 

Brian Jackson 
LMR Class of 1996 
Hirschler Law 

Rob Jones 
LMR Class of 2003 
Alliance Group 

Tracy McCabe 
LMR Class of 2012 
IT Data Team Lead 
Luck Companies 


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