Recruit to Increase Board Diversity

Foundation_recruit board diversity March 22, 2022 By: Jenny Nelson

Recent ASAE Research Foundation studies highlight the value of deliberate recruitment to increase board member diversity and provide practical steps for better recruitment.

Association leaders are committing to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion across their fields and within their organizations to better serve their increasingly diverse member communities. But at the top levels of volunteer leadership, how much is changing?

Not much, according to a forthcoming report from the ASAE Research Foundation. At least, not without deliberate effort.

Data from the research shows that the majority of association board members are still white men, age 30-59, in seats that are held for six years, on average. But associations that identify and target underrepresented groups for recruitment are making strides in changing their board composition.

Only half of respondents said that their organization tracked self-reported board member demographics.

For example, 53 percent of study participants saw an increase in cisgender women on their board after they actively recruited members of this group, versus the 23 percent who saw an increase without recruiting. The study made similar findings regarding increases in other demographic groups:

  • Black or African-American board members: 43 percent versus 19 percent
  • Hispanic or Latinx board members: 31 percent versus 10 percent
  • Board members under 30: 30 percent versus 5 percent
  • Asian or Asian-American board members: 29 percent versus 14 percent
  • LGBTQ+ board members: 26 percent versus 9 percent
  • Board members with a disability: 18 percent versus 2 percent

Gaps to Be Filled

Tracking board demographics is the foundation for improving board diversity, but a lot of associations don’t collect this information. Only half of respondents said that their organization tracked self-reported board member demographics. The demographics most often tracked included gender/gender identity (46 percent) and race/ethnicity (42 percent), with age (29 percent), sexual orientation (12 percent), and disability (12 percent) less frequently tracked.

12% Percentage of respondents who said their volunteers network to reach specific demographic populations

Demographic data can tell you who your recruitment efforts are missing so you can make changes, but a lot of associations haven’t tackled targeted outreach yet. Just 12 percent of respondents said their volunteers network to reach specific populations, and only 21 percent use websites to reach specific populations. Associations and their board members are still largely relying on traditional recruitment techniques, like board members’ personal networks (43 percent), word of mouth (45 percent), self-nomination or member nomination (60 percent), or other standard communication methods the association uses (61 percent).

But 76 percent use a nominating committee, which provides an opportunity to create better recruitment practices.

Improving Recruitment

According to the foundation’s research report Building Better Association Boards, the board selection process should begin with the nominating committee and the board identifying board needs—including key competencies and demographic representation gaps. This assessment will then guide the recruitment process and even indicate what fields may be needed on the candidate interest form.

Two other diversity-advancement practices to consider from Building Better Association Boards:

  1. The nominating committee can decide to designate some seats as contested and some as uncontested.
  2. Instead of automatically reslating board members eligible for a second term, they could be evaluated against the same competency and diversity requirements as other candidates.

To successfully support a diverse board now and in the future, associations must also embrace equity and inclusion practices. The full research report, Are Association Boards Embracing DEI?, will be released later this spring and will offer insight into recommended DEI practices and data on how associations are using them.

For more detail on recommended board nomination and selection practices, check out Recruit the Right Board, which expands on the analysis of the data from Building Better Association Boards with additional resources and material.

Jenny Nelson

Jenny Nelson is director, content and knowledge resources, at ASAE.