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Posted by on Aug 2018 in Member Support, Slider, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Diversify Your Board with These Steps

Women pinning a post-it note to the wall in an office

Did you know that close to half of Canadians volunteer locally? Over 90% of volunteers say their number one motivation is to make a contribution to their community (Imagine Canada).

With so many Canadians willing to donate their time, why are community housing providers reporting major challenges in recruiting diverse, qualified board members?

 There are a few key factors at play here.

Many business practices —including governance—are based on doing things in the way they have always been done. This ‘common sense’ approach may be comforting, but it can also be limiting and sometimes excludes different perspectives and people. It can also mean that some members of the community do not feel a connection the organization itself.

This kind of approach can lead us to look only to the usual suspects to fill vacant seats. When these people are not available, it leaves us with hard-to-fill vacancies. As a result:

  • The same board members stay for many years, resulting in a homogeneous group.
  • Boards stick with ‘tried and true’ approaches and solutions, leaving little room for exploring fresh ideas.
  • Organization relevancy to potential volunteers —and also other stakeholders—is limited.
  • The board may lose out on new volunteers who are committed, talented and diverse.
  • Ultimately, this can impact the organization’s financial—and social—bottom lines.

Today we’re seeing a trend to increasingly diversify boards to better reflect communities. Many non-profit boards say they are open to bringing on more diverse board members, BUT claim:

  • they get few or no applications from diverse community members;
  • there are few qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds; and/or
  • diverse board members don’t stay.

So what is going on?Two professionals shaking hands

Sometimes our recruitment, interviewing and board practices may not actually be as inclusive as we might think. Recruiting diverse board members requires intentional effort and going beyond the ‘tried and true’.

This is where the hard work comes in. Boards will need to take steps to consider how inclusive they are being and how they can change.

Tips for inclusive recruitment

If your board wants to ensure a culture of inclusivity to attract diverse candidates, it will take a healthy self-awareness, a willingness to be challenged, the flexibility to change, and a commitment to act with intention and thoughtfulness.

Specifically, boards should:

  • Be willing to bravely explore possible barriers to inclusion in policy, practice and culture. Ask yourselves: Is the board culture flexible enough to include the perspectives of members with diverse lived experiences and identities?
  • Have a frank (and possibly uncomfortable) discussion at the board table. Explore your use of language, how issues and solutions are framed, what is prioritized and whose voices are heard around the table.
  • Be clear about what diversity means to your organization. Go beyond race and gender to include class, age, ability, religion, etc.
  • Consider what your fears might be with respect to opening up to new people and perspectives.
  • Decide on your non-negotiables in terms of a candidate’s skills and attributes (Example: They must support the organization’s mission).
  • Consult with other organizations and community groups for ideas. Attend community events and establish relationships with different groups, such as cultural organizations or student groups.
  • Consider what you can change or put in place in order to support your commitment to inclusivity. You might want to review:
    • meeting times
    • meeting locations
    • position/job descriptions
    • ad hoc committees
    • board processes
    • decision-making approaches
    • board education
    • diversity policy or statement (sometimes called anti-oppression)

Business people meetingAlways be open to learning from one another and be willing to have the hard conversations. At ONPHA, we call this being generative.

Consider how your board can implement the steps in this article, keep an open mind, and you will be on your way to fostering a culture of inclusivity and, ultimately, building a stronger, more diverse board.


More learning at the ONPHA Conference

ONPHA offers a range of resources and education for boards. Visit us online for more information. We will also be providing more learning at the 2018 ONPHA Conference and Trade Show and pre-conference event Education Day at the Sheraton Centre Toronto.

If you’re a board member, consider registering for the following Conference sessions – and invite your other board members to join you.

Education Day: Sessions of Interest for Boards

View all session and register. 

The Governance Toolkit: Ensuring Effective Leadership and Accountability
October 25 | 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Human Resources: Going from Good to Great
October 25 | 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.


ONPHA Conference: Sessions of Interest for Boards

View all sessions and register.

The Fundamentals of Good Governance (Session 405)
October 27 | 10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.

A Friendly Amalgamation (Session 110)
October 26 | 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Political Acuity (Session 206)
October 26 | 2 – 3:30 p.m.

Partnering for Progress: Collaborating with the Private Sector (Session 305)
October 26 | 4 – 5 p.m.

Kickstart Your Communications Strategy (Session 404)
October 27 | 10:30 a.m. – 12 p.m.


Questions about the Conference? Email


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