Driving Diversity Through Board Service

Posted by Alexandra Hallock, Mar 30, 2017 0 comments

A recent study by the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs made clear what even a casual observer of the arts already sensed: New York City’s cultural sector—a sector acting as one of the greatest cultural centers in the world—does not match the demographic diversity of its population. In fact, while 64% of New Yorkers are from racial/ethnic backgrounds other than white, just 22% of nonprofit board members represent non-majority racial and ethnic backgrounds.[1] These numbers led to Mayor Bill de Blasio calling for us to “find ways to foster a creative sector that opens doors for every New Yorker, regardless of their background.”

In what ways does your organization wish to deepen board diversity?

That was one of the critical questions we asked while ramping up for the most recent round of BoardLead. BoardLead is the primary program of Cause Strategy Partners, LLC that strengthens social good organizations by recruiting, placing, training and supporting talented professionals from top companies for high-impact board service. Through a partnership with The New York Community Trust, BoardLead Arts NYC was created to help small to medium sized nonprofit arts organizations elevate, diversify, and transform board leadership. Goldman Sachs, Google, and MasterCard partnered with BoardLead to make board placement opportunities available to high potential and diverse employees.

We already know it’s important that a nonprofit organization have a Board of Directors that reflects the community the organization is designed to serve. We don’t simply believe that nonprofits should look like the communities they serve, but we understand the importance of the high-level participation and integration of individuals from historically overlooked groups.

Diverse boards are simply stronger boards. Nonprofit organizations are remarkably complex organizations, facing a range of issues daily. Diverse boards strengthen conversation, broaden perspectives, and enhance the decision-making processes of nonprofit organizations. Further, when boards are inclusive and diverse, nonprofits can reach into networks and communities that might otherwise be untouched. Imagine the implications in funding, talent acquisition, and audience development, for example, when an arts organization enjoys passionate champions on their board who come from a cross-section of backgrounds and experiences. This can open critical doors in helping arts groups achieve their mission.

For our corporate partners, BoardLead Arts NYC is an on-ramp for their professionals to serve on the Boards of Directors of arts organizations that add to the vibrant cultural landscape of New York City. These professionals “do good” for their community while, at the same time, build their professional network and strengthen their future career path. Nonprofit board service is one of the best ways a professional can make a meaningful impact on his or her community. Corporations benefit as well, as professionals represent their company in the community while simultaneously growing critical leadership competencies.

By offering meaningful service opportunities and supporting the leadership development of their professionals, Goldman Sachs, Google, and MasterCard are investing deeply in their employees. Prior to recruiting BoardLead candidates, we worked closely with our corporate liaisons to strategize around ways to leverage talented and diverse professionals from their companies. This included engaging Employee Resource and Employee Affinity Groups. Employers also worked with managers to tap high-potential folks on the shoulder or identify individuals looking for meaningful professional development opportunities. While diversity has many different angles, we strategized specifically on bringing under-represented professionals to the table.

In speaking with the nonprofit partners for BoardLead Arts NYC about diversity, increasing representation of minorities on their boards was a persistent theme. We also found that each nonprofit has unique goals related to their mission and often has a long list of diversity goals they are working towards.

In what ways does your organization wish to deepen board diversity?

Here are some of the responses we heard from leaders of arts organizations:

  • For a children’s art museum in North Harlem that fosters creativity and art learning for children and their families, diversity means representation from different types of family structures.
  • For a Spanish theatre company, diversity means 2nd or 3rd generation Latinos born in the United States, as almost all its Latino board members are 1st generation Americans.
  • For a Brooklyn-based chorus academy, diversity means bringing board members from Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, or the Bronx.

To date, BoardLead Arts NYC has matched 21 professionals from Goldman Sachs, Google, and MasterCard onto the boards of 14 arts organizations. As the program continues, we’re working to create more opportunities to increase the number of board elections. It’s been BoardLead’s privilege to support nonprofit arts organizations in New York City and top companies as they drive towards creating deeper diversity together.

Join Cause Strategy Partners and BoardLead on Twitter at @causestrategypartners and @weareboardlead. Sign up for CauseKit on our website to stay abreast of future developments.

[1] Sources: Report: Diversity in the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs Community (January 28, 2016); 2010 U.S. Census.


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