Chattanooga’s New Strategy for Growing Minority Nonprofit Board Membership

July 28, 2017;

Board Connector is the straightforward name of a new nonprofit website whose mission couldn’t be more plain: connecting people to boards, and placing women and people of color in particular.

The brainchild of Chattanooga, Tennessee City Attorney Wade Hinton, as if in anticipation of the usual excuses of “can’t find candidates” or “candidates don’t have leadership and governance experience,” Board Connector’s framework has dotted its i’s and crossed its t’s. It has been designed to connect people of color and women (and, of course, those who are both) to positions on the city’s nonprofit boards; the eventual goal is to expand that outreach to other minority groups.

The site catalogues expertise and recommends individuals whose skillset will enhance a given nonprofit. Candidates are asked to indicate their areas of interest, career status, and goals and upload a resume. The model, similar to search firms and other organizations that place individuals on corporate boards, recruits or registers individuals as potential board members then marshals its resources to find an appropriate board placement. Individuals also have the opportunity to nominate others. The attraction for candidates is that serving is an opportunity to give back to their communities while using specific hard and soft leadership skills.

Participating nonprofits register their interest in candidates. Participation is an opportunity to illustrate that your organization values inclusion and diversity. According to the website, when organizations register, they expand opportunities for their enterprise by gaining access to insights and community resources that otherwise might not be available. Similar to potential board candidates, nonprofits indicate their organizational focus areas. They are also required to agree to the following: “By checking the box below, you are representing that your organization is committed to having an intentionally inclusive board of directors. Further, you are stating your commitment to diversity as an organization.” Board Connector even offers a corporate membership program, allowing companies to join and connect their employees to nonprofit opportunities.

As a full service organization, Board Connector doesn’t stop there. Their strategic partners, including BoardSource, Executive Leadership Council, and African American Leadership Council, are a source for every aspect of board training and preparation, making this almost an offer that cannot be refused. Unfortunately, across the country, far too many nonprofits continue to refuse. Writer Derwin Dubose noted this in his December 2014 article for NPQ, “The Nonprofit Sector Has a Ferguson Problem.”

The disparity continues in governance, where nonprofit policies and programs are set. BoardSource’s most recent survey reports that only eight percent of nonprofit board members are minorities, and 30 percent of boards lack a single member of color. Despite diversity rhetoric, nonprofits have made no progress in recruiting racial and ethnic minorities. The BoardSource survey found that while 63 percent of organizations say that diversity is a core value, the percentage of people of color on nonprofit boards has not changed in 18 years.

Apparently, this is still enough of a concern in post–Barack and Michelle 2017 to have persuaded Hinton to launch the website in April of this year. According to Hinton, “Boards aren’t saying they need a person of a particular gender or ethnicity, they are looking for ideas and skill sets. What we are simply doing here is saying we want to enlarge the pool of candidates.”

Board Connector was established because the number of people of color serving on local nonprofit boards is still severely lacking. (If Issa Rae’s HBO comedy workplace on Insecure had a diverse board, it might have changed the nonprofit’s name from “We Got Y’all.”) Hinton and his organization are interested in hearing from other cities which could benefit from launching their own Board Connectors.—Mary Frances Mitchner

Wade Hinton