Why Are You Asking Me On Board?

A piece I wrote on diversity efforts in board recruitment appeared on ArtsHacker last week. I primarily drew the content from a piece Jim Taylor, BoardSource’s vice president of leadership initiatives and education, wrote about his experiences being recruited for board membership.

He said his primary litmus test when being recruited to join a board is to ask what value he would bring to the board. He says this is a question anyone being recruited to join a board should ask. However, if the recruiter can’t provide a satisfactory answer that emphasizes his expertise or experience over his racial background, Taylor says he considers the real conversation is finished.

I quote the following in the ArtsHacker post:

Taylor observes that when people of color achieve something, it is often assumed a bar had been lowered to allow them to accomplish it. “So when a White board member recruits me and effectively diminishes the totality of my assets and qualifications to one aspect of my identity – my race–… I am still being seen as “less than”.

I go on to note that white board members have often been recruited based on their ability to garner financial support or exert influence on behalf of the organization rather than expertise they may bring to the table and no one questions their qualifications, mostly because their identity is viewed as the default norm.

My organization recruited new board members a few months back and I made an effort to specify what elements of people’s experience and background we felt was beneficial to the organization. I don’t believe I had read Taylor’s piece at that time.

However, in on a recent grant application where we were asked to discuss how we were diversifying our board, I did burn through a good portion of the precious character limit enumerating the value each of our new board members brought with them, mindful of Taylor’s article and wanting to make a small contribution toward mainstreaming this thinking.

As governance and equity become increasingly important considerations for non-profit boards, what someone brings is likewise a significant question all parties should be asking.


Many Lens of Board Recruitment

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the 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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