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Practicing Equitable Board Recruitment

Nonprofit Board Development Series: Part 3
byWhitley Richards, Erin M. ConnellonOctober 5, 2022

Diversity, equity, and inclusion practices are critical to ensuring your Board of Directors is thoughtfully engaging the community that your nonprofit serves. This resource details what transformational and equitable board recruitment can look like.

Board Recruitment with a DEI Lens

Traditionally, many nonprofit organizations have utilized a recruitment strategy that primarily taps into their current board members’ existing personal and professional networks. This approach is problematic, as it significantly limits the diversity and experiences of the pool of candidates positioned to serve on your board.

Research shows that only 16 percent of nonprofit board members identify as people of color, and that 75 percent of white Americans do not have any minorities or people of color in their networks. Given these statistics and the prevalence of network-only board recruitment practices, it is clear why so many Boards of Directors lack the diversity needed to effectively serve their mission. This reality is only further exacerbated by the fact that board development priorities often cater to candidates with community and professional connections of high influence or net worth, overlooking other equally-beneficial contributions such as the perspective brought by someone who may be personally impacted by the nonprofit’s programs and services. Inevitably, boards that recruit exclusively from their personal and professional networks will find that candidates who come from these same networks and experiences feel like the best fit.

These traditional recruitment processes prioritize the needs of the organization, which can cause board recruitment processes to limit their understanding of how to best connect with the candidates they are seeking. Alternatively, recruitment strategies that center diversity, equity, and inclusion, allow organizations to keep their needs front and center while also considering the needs of candidates. By centering the needs of both the candidates you seek to recruit and your board, nonprofits can transform their recruitment processes.

Transforming the Recruitment Process

There are three elements critical to any recruitment process – the tools, strategies, and people engaged to achieve intended outcomes. Each of these elements can be reevaluated to thoughtfully centering equity and inclusion. Below, you will find more information about each of these elements, as well as an outline of steps your organization can consider to transform your recruitment processes.

First, consider the tools your board uses for recruitment. The key to recruitment tools that center equity is ensuring they are aimed at equitable outcomes. Are you seeing a diversified and equitable recruitment strategy take shape on your board? Considering new tools can either kickstart your strategy, or deepen that commitment even further.

Next, evaluate the strategies your board uses to recruit new members. By centering the candidate’s needs when designing a strategy, nonprofits can be more thoughtful about how to connect with their priority candidates in places previously unexplored.

Finally, considering the people who design, drive, support, and execute recruitment is critical. While tools and strategies can create parameters for success, it is the board members who lead the recruitment and onboarding effort who will most significantly impact an equitable recruitment process.


  • Conduct a board and organization self-assessment to identify areas of improvement; build on this by designing a clear strategic plan that your board can use to advance your recruitment goals.
  • Leverage technology to connect with the candidates you seek.
    • Move beyond word-of-mouth recruitment and being limited to your board’s networks by leveraging technology. For example, explore untapped job boards, online alumni networks, and messaging boards to share your opportunity.
  • Consider exploring board recruitment programs, like BoardLead.


  • Develop new recruiting and onboarding systems.
    • Develop auxiliary board leadership opportunities, cohort-based onboarding processes, and a diverse pipeline of board member prospects.
  • Build firm targets into the recruitment process to hold your organization accountable to creating a diverse pipeline of candidates.


  • Ensure that the Board Nominating Committee (or other board-appointed group charged with overseeing board recruitment) is itself representative of a broad range of identities.
  • Reconsider what networks you use for recruitment.
    • Explore untapped networks, such as leadership development programs, affinity groups within your corporate partners’ teams, and your existing staff and volunteer networks.
  • Unite the board around shared goals and a shared process.
    • Check in regularly for alignment, maintain accountability, continue learning together, and practice open-mindedness.

Be Mindful of Blind Spots

Nonprofit and NGO Boards of Directors shepherd, lead and guide the delivery of important services in communities across the globe. This position comes with significant responsibilities and decision making opportunities that shape the future of nonprofits, their programs and services, and their impact on real lives. It is essential to ensure that nonprofit leaders make informed, thoughtful, and unbiased decisions every step of the way, which includes being mindful of and avoiding blind spots.

What are Blind Spots?

Blind spots are unconscious biases, where a judgment is made about others without realizing the limitations of our thought process and decision. These are patterns of thought that are based on life experiences and learnings, and they influence how one makes decisions and understands the world. Blind spots are unconscious beliefs that we hold about others, and do not necessarily align with conscious declared beliefs. This type of thinking is learned behavior, and while it is often unintentional and not meant to cause harm, acting on blind spots can have real, negative implications (Source: PwC United States: “Blind Spots.”).

It is critical to be cognizant of blind spots in order to ensure board recruitment and engagement processes are thoughtful, inclusive, and equitable. Experts tell us that we each hold our own biases, whether we are conscious of them or not, and they can lead to behaviors such as:

  • Treating an individual favorably due to having something in common.
  • Looking for what confirms one’s beliefs and ignoring the relevance of things that contradict those beliefs.
  • Judging a person’s abilities and character based on a one-time behavior.

Consider how bias may be limiting your board’s ability to optimally lead the organization and its accomplishment of the mission. By thoughtfully keeping in mind biases and assumptions, nonprofit leaders can create space for other perspectives — leading to better decision-making and more authentic connections.