BoardSource just released its Nonprofit Governance Index 2010 which contains interesting data collected from surveys of hundreds of nonprofit executives and board members. One finding highlighted by BoardSource is widespread dissatisfaction from those surveyed regarding the degree of racial, ethnic and age diversity on nonprofit boards.
My concern here is that people might think that diversity alone is the answer. Sure, it is nice to see boards and elected bodies look more representative of the population in which they exist. Furthermore, having board members with a variety of backgrounds, skill sets and perspectives should add important value to boardroom dialogue and decision-making ability.
For me, however, having diversity in the boardroom is simply not enough. I believe that the role of the board starts with understanding who the legal or moral ownership is, and then having meaningful conversations with the ownership about what results the organization should produce. To truly accomplish this function whilst exercising group authority, board members cannot be content with simply representing their respective constituencies, regions, races or factions. True board leadership requires board members to, in effect, ‘transcend themselves,’ a concept brilliantly explored by Dr. John Carver in his 2004 speech, Transcending Ourselves: The Board’s Unique Contribution to Success.
If board members can become increasingly capable of transcending themselves in order (1) to be the informed voice of the legal/moral owners and (2) to participate effectively as part of a group authority (not singular dictators or managers), they will achieve so much more than they would by creating boards that are visibly diverse. Diversity is laudable when it exists, and, whether or not it is achieved, all board members should strive to become informed and effective stewards on behalf of all their owners.