Academic journal article Journal of the Community Development Society

Social Diversity within Nonprofit Boards: Members' Views on Status and Issues

Academic journal article Journal of the Community Development Society

Social Diversity within Nonprofit Boards: Members' Views on Status and Issues

Article excerpt


This study explores the views of nonprofit agency board members about current status and issues related to board diversity. Trends in agency growth and complexity and turbulence in agency environments are described. Board members view their responsibilities, especially fund raising, as associated with board diversity. Diversity issues focus on the involvement of groups that have not traditionally been involved, including low-income persons, clients, ethnic minorities, and inexperienced board members. Diversity is valued by some respondents, tolerated by others, and its value is questioned by some. Extensive use of quotations provides insights into the manner in which board members frame their views of diversity. The relationships between board diversity and agency culture are explored.



This study builds on the explorations of the dynamics of diversity and the use of language in nonprofit boards by Daley and Angulo (1994) and Daley, Netting, and Angulo (1996). The use of a random sample of nonprofit agency boards provides a more rigorous test of earlier explorations. As we immersed ourselves in the board member interview data, we encountered a number of potentially important themes that relate to the manner in which boards operate and experience diversity. These themes and their implications will constitute the major portion of the present article. (1)

Nonprofit organization boards of directors represent an important opportunity for community participation. Within the diverse universe of nonprofit boards, community members may develop civic careers ranging from involvement with small, local nonprofit boards that provide entry level experiences for emerging leaders, to experiences with larger, more complex, and relatively more demanding situations for experienced community leaders (Daley & Angulo, 1994). As communities become more socially diverse, nonprofit boards can be promising opportunities to integrate new leaders, groups, perspectives, and interests into our civic conversations (Daley & Wong, 1994).


Much of the literature on nonprofit boards of directors touches lightly on diversity or is silent on social diversity within boards. At present, other than isolated case studies, empirical research has neglected the key tie between board diversity and board effectiveness. Literature that does address diversity tends to assume that diversity is desirable, usually without examining why diversity is deemed desirable (Carver, 1997; Conrad & Glen, 1983; Hodgkin, 1993). Literature from the community field identifies a number of potential benefits of diversity. A modest but growing body of literature explores ways to make social diversity a reality in nonprofit boards (Daley, Wong, & Applewhite, 1992; Duca, 1996; Rutledge, 1994; Tropman, 1992; Widmer, 1987).

Social diversity as used here means the human richness based on individuals' culture or ethnicity, gender, religion, language, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, community of residence, ability level, client status, length of board service, and so on. We use the term social diversity in recognition that the relevant dimensions/characteristics that define diversity are defined or constructed socially within each board. Each board defines the combination of factors that will constitute diversity within that board. We recognize the distinction between demographic diversity and function diversity (Daley & Angulo, 1994, p. 74). Demographic diversity (having a diverse board composition) is distinguished from functional diversity (incorporating diverse voices, interests and perspectives in the policy process). Therefore, a board of directors might have achieved a high degree of demographic diversity in its composition related to specific dimensions/elements of diversity, but reflect a significantly lower level of functional diversity related to these dimensions as it conducts its affairs. …

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