Written by: Jim Taylor (8/31/20)
Vice President of Leadership Initiatives, BoardSource
As a Black man who has worked with or for nonprofits for most of my career, I’ve become very familiar with how nonprofit boards recruit for board diversity; by my count, I have been actively recruited by the boards of 13 organizations.
I can divide 11 of these 13 board recruitment experiences into two categories:
- Five boards that I agreed to join due to a mutual passion for the mission and a shared understanding of the alignment between what the board was seeking and what I could offer
- Six boards that I didn’t join due to a poor fit or inopportune timing
But there’s a third category of board recruitment experiences that has left the most indelible memories – memories that, although unpleasant, have provided some valuable “lessons learned” that I carry with me to this day. The third category consists of the two times I declined to join a board because I felt disrespected during the board’s recruitment process – so disrespected that declining the invitation was an easy decision because I believed that the recruitment experience was a foreshadowing of the obstacles I would have faced as a board member.
As we at BoardSource continue to urge the nonprofit sector to commit to action on diversifying its boards (a cause that has become even more important during the current national conversation on racial inequity), I want to share my story of what went wrong in these two recruitment experiences and offer my perspective on what boards need to do differently to successfully recruit – and retain – people of color.
The two recruitment experiences that made me feel disrespected were almost identical; here’s a summary of what happened:
A White board member requested a meeting with me to discuss his organization (a nonprofit that was unfamiliar to me) and to gauge my potential interest in joining the board. When we met he gave me more background on the organization, with a particular emphasis on the board’s desire to become more diverse. After listening to the board member’s “pitch”, I asked him to share the ways he thought I could add value to the board; I wanted to know what prompted him to reach out to me, specifically. The board member seemed surprised and unprepared to answer the question, and just re-stated his board’s focus on becoming more diverse. His visible discomfort in directly answering my question revealed the real answer to me: I was being recruited because — and seemingly only because — I was Black and my board membership would support the organization’s board diversity goals. The board member didn’t appear to know much about my work or my skills and experiences (or else he considered them to be far less important than my race, from the board’s perspective), so based on his response I believed that I was being “tokenized” – being recruited by a board not for my capability (in combination with my race), but so that the board could use my membership to portray to the public a misleading impression of its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity. Continue Reading
As Vice President of Leadership Initiatives, Jim Taylor focuses on leading BoardSource’s efforts to position nonprofit boards for stronger leadership on diversity, inclusion, and equity. This includes leading the organization’s work to spark and support understanding, action, and change at the board level on these issues; serving as an external representative, speaker, and writer; developing new resources and programming; and partnering with peer organizations around the country.
This blog is not written by aabli.org or The African American Board Leadership Institute. The author is solely responsible for the content.