What can your non-profit learn from the Academy Awards boycott?

oscarsI assume most of you heard about the boycott that had been organized within the artistic community to this past weekend’s Academy Awards event. In a nutshell, it was because for the second year in a row the nominations lack diversity. If you’ve been busy running your non-profit organization and living in a cave, then I suggest clicking through to read an US Magazine article titled “Oscars 2016 Boycott: Every Celebrity Who’s Weighed in on #OscarsSoWhite“. Or you can simply spend a little time reading the tweets filed under the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag on Twitter. It was while doing exactly these things when I realized this controversy has a lot to do with diversity in your non-profit boardroom.
A few nights night ago, I was tuned into The Final Word with Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC. In his “Rewrite” segment, he tackled the issue of “Why the Oscars really lack diversity“. If you have a moment, I suggest you click-through and listen to his explanation. It really is excellent. However, I’ve distilled it down into the following bullet points for those of you are are insanely busy:

  • The judges for this award don’t watch all of the movies
  • A judge’s filter is informed by their experiences, values, background
  • Most of the judges didn’t grow up living in inner city urban neighborhoods and couldn’t find Compton on a map if pressed to do so
  • Most of the judges haven’t been to Africa and wouldn’t connect with the plot of “Beasts of No Nation”
  • The bottom line is that we only know what we know and our experiences inform our biases, which in turn explain why we do and say things

In other words, if the Academy wants more diversity in their nominations, then they need to diversify their judging pool.

board5So, how does this apply to your non-profit boardroom?

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sat in a board development committee meeting (or even just a regularly scheduled board meeting) when the discussion/exercise of “board volunteer prospecting” is undertaken. Almost every time I find myself doing or thinking the following things:

  • Looking around the table and seeing little to no diversity
  • Cringing at what I now characterize as “the talk of tokenism
  • Sighing when the discussion fizzles out, very few ideas were generated and the lead prospects are more of the same (e.g. friends and colleagues of the people sitting around the table)

There is a good reason why the old expression “Birds of a feather flock together” is still considered a truism.
Of course, the solution to your non-profit organization’s lack of diversity is the same solution as what Lawrence O’Donnell advocated for the Academy . . .

Boardroom diversity starts with diversity at your board development committee (or nominating committee) table and throughout your volunteer prospecting exercises

AND once you have achieved this, the work is only just beginning!
tokenThe diverse group of faces sitting around your board development committee table need to have a good grasp of the following:

  • what characteristics and traits does a good board volunteer possess
  • what experiences should a good board prospect have had that will help contribute to their success on your board
  • what are traditional roles and responsibilities for non-profit board volunteers
  • what gaps exist on your board that need to be filled with a new group of prospects

Answering these questions for your newly formed, diverse board development committee will ensure the names they bring to the table aren’t simply people of color (or niche groups such as women, LGBTQ, Jewish-Americans, etc). But rather, the prospects generated by this group will be qualified, experienced and prepared, who also happen to come with a diversity of demographic characteristics.
Can we please eradicate tokenism in our organizations? We owe it to ourselves because the non-profit sector is are better than that.
Has your organization been down this path? If so, how did you address the issue of diversity in your board development process? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC

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