NPO Execs Much More Concerned By Lack of Board Diversity Than Board Chairs

I recently published a short piece on ArtsHacker about how important the leadership of non-profit board chairs was to the success of the organization. Much of the information was draw from a webinar Non-Profit Quarterly hosted about Board Source’s most recent Leading With Intent report.

I just got around to reading the report in the last week. Since the finds are summarized pretty prominently on the Leading With Intent home page, I will leave readers take a look themselves and hopefully choose to focus in on areas of interest, if not read the whole thing.

Of course, general observations don’t give you the full story. While I wasn’t surprised to read that board membership isn’t becoming more diverse and their current composition is inhibiting efforts at diversity, I was interested to read that executive directors felt much more strongly than board chairs that the lack of diversity was a problem.

Sixty-five percent of executive directors versus 41% of board chairs were somewhat or extremely dissatisfied with the level racial and ethnic diversity.

It is possible chief executives express higher levels of dissatisfaction with the board’s racial and ethnic diversity because they are more exposed to the way it is affecting their organization. Seventy-nine (79) percent of chief executives say that expanding racial and ethnic diversity is important, or greatly important, to increasing their organization’s ability to advance its mission.

Additionally, chief executive responses highlight an understanding of the many ways that diversity (or lack of diversity) can impact an organization’s

reputation: 80 percent of executives report that diversity and inclusion is important, or very important, to “enhancing the organization’s standing with the general public.”

reach: 72 percent of executives report that diversity and inclusion is important, or greatly important, to “increase fundraising or expand donor networks.”

If an organization is facing issues and challenges due to a lack of board diversity, chief executives are wise to help the board understand these issues rather than continuing to make the case for diversity without the board fully understanding what is at stake.

My guess is that pretty much everyone in the arts and culture sector understands that the recent push for greater diversity in commercial entertainment and associated award shows isn’t just applicable to commercial or entertainment enterprises.

If you are under the impression that this is all just a fad and will stop at the edge of the televised red carpet, ooooh boy, you better pay closer attention. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if inclusion displaced overhead ratio as a primary measure of effectiveness and worthiness among funders, patrons and donors.

While lack of diversity in terms of race/ethnicity was the biggest source of dissatisfaction, lack of diversity in terms of socioeconomic status, age, gender, sexual orientation and persons with disabilities was roughly equal for executive officers (~30%) and presumably growing.

The neutrality gap between satisfaction and dissatisfaction in each of these areas varies widely and might be a source of interest to readers. (page 10 of the PDF, page 11 in printed version)

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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