Vital Voices: Lessons Learned from Board Members of Color

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Vital Voices: Lessons Learned from Board Members of Color

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010 - 10:05am


While more than 86 percent of board members of color recently surveyed said they either almost always or often feel comfortable voicing their opinions at meetings, 13 percent said they have encountered some form of tokenism.

Vital Voices: Lessons Learned from Board Members of Color is BoardSource’s first survey designed to amplify the voices of people of color serving on nonprofit boards of directors. It is part of BoardSource's effort to discover why boards tend to lack racial diversity. In comparing the BoardSource Nonprofit Governance Indexes of 2007 and 1994, BoardSource found that board demographics remained relatively stable, with 86 percent of board members white in both indexes despite a dramatically changing landscape.
The Vital Voices survey, conducted in October 2009, analyzed data from 550 respondents. The report was made possible by the generous support of the James Irvine Foundation.
Half of the survey respondents said that reaching out to communities of color when recruiting new board members is one of the three most important things a nonprofit board can do to become more inclusive.
The top three reasons respondents gave for being recruited were
  • their leadership potential

  • the organization’s need for their professional skills

  • their ability to represent the needs/interests of specific racial/ethnic communities

After they joined the board, some board members felt marginalized; 13% commented that tokenism negatively impacted their board experience. Such comments raise the question of whether and how boards are moving beyond applying a quota system.


BoardSource is dedicated to advancing the public good by building exceptional nonprofit boards and inspiring board service. BoardSource strives to support and promote excellence in board service, is the premier source of cutting-edge thinking and resources related to nonprofit boards, and engages and develops the next generation of board leaders.


Keywords: BOARD OF DIRECTORS | BoardSource | CSR | James Irvine Foundation | Vital Voices | diversity | nonprofit