The case for Black board leadership

Empty Board Table

I began writing for Black History Month several weeks ago.

It started as a response to feedback we received from a Black nonprofit board member who felt they couldn’t engage in our conversations about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion because those conversations were being held for majority-white leadership audience.   My reflections, then, hinged on the importance of developing tools and resources that catered to the needs of Black leader, and ironically, I spent most of the piece speaking to an (assumed) white audience.

That blog post has since been scrapped. 

The case has been made time and time again to (white) nonprofit leaders:

Black people serve on boards.  Black people should be considered for nonprofit boards.  Black people’s contributions on nonprofit boards should be valued in the same way that contributions from other board members are.

This blog post is for a different audience – an audience that includes me: Black people interested in, considering, or serving on nonprofit boards.  As a Black woman and executive leader working in nonprofit board placement, who also serves on a nonprofit board, here are three reasons I think it is important for Black leaders to be in the boardroom:

1.  We deserve to be there.  

Nonprofit boardrooms are spaces of power and therefore, were not originally designed for Black membership.  But just as we deserve to be in spaces where decisions are made, where the wellbeing of our communities is discussed, and where acts of service are demonstrated, so too do we deserve to be in nonprofit boardrooms.  Not because of what we bring, not because of our connections to the community, but because our belonging in these spaces shouldn’t be questioned or have to be justified any more than anyone else’s.  

2.  We bring unique value as individuals. 

Each of us brings unique and different experiences.  Some of the perspectives we bring to the boardroom were formed by the racial and ethnic identities we hold, but not all of them.  We also bring our diverse upbringings, family structures, values, geographic and cultural backgrounds, social views, and so much more.  Yes, there are aspects of our identities that may help us connect with some of the experiences being addressed by the nonprofits we serve.  It’s the fullness of our identities that we have to draw on, which help achieve the missions we so passionately support.  

3.  Nonprofit board service is an extension of the work we are already doing. 

We know that service and giving are core to Black culture. We’ve done this through our churches, Greek organizations, community circles, and schools. Nonprofit board service allows us to take that same spirit and apply it to the mission of a single organization, maximizing our impact. Through board service we advocate, network, volunteer, make financial contributions, and leverage our personal and professional experiences.  It doesn’t have to replace other work we’re doing, but it certainly complements it.  

A final thought.

Given the existence of programs like BoardLead, conversations about equity in governance, and a growing appreciation for nonprofit board service as a leadership development tool, board service is in fact becoming more available to Black professionals.  And in my experience as a nonprofit consultant, organizations are in fact prioritizing efforts to racially diversity their boards right now.  

The reality though, is that there is not always clarity about how to access these opportunities.  This is the work of Cause Strategy Partners – to inspire the world’s professionals to serve their cause.  We do this by energizing a culture of board service with corporate partners eager to offer nonprofit board placement and training programs.  

You don’t have to wait for one of these programs to find and join a board.  Continue to follow us, and learn strategies for identifying board service opportunities on your own.  There is exciting and important work happening in the nonprofit sector, and it’s time we find a seat at boardroom table. 

Whitley Richards, Chief Program Officer, Cause Strategy Partners

Whitley Richards oversees all existing nonprofit board placement and training services globally and leads the development of new programs. She has designed, built, and led internal and consulting initiatives focused on strengthening diversity, equity, and inclusion in nonprofit governance and among nonprofit staff teams.