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Opinion Diverse and trained leaders needed to address growing equity gaps

Diverse and trained leaders needed to address growing equity gaps

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BoardBuild was born from the desire to strengthen communities by strengthening the fibers of its leadership. The organization has developed an innovative pairing of robust board governance, nonprofit resource, and leadership training with the advanced matching of candidates and nonprofit board openings.


CEO, BoardBuild

Everything that’s ever shaped the course of a community began with that community’s leadership. Boards of directors operate at the highest level of organizational leadership, each playing a key role in the development of nonprofit organizations that invest time and energy into cultivating diversity, inclusion, and equity.

As leaders and decision-makers of social sector organizations, boards must be aware of the growing systemic inequities in our communities and acknowledge how the global pandemic has only exacerbated these inequities.

Our current climate has made it necessary, fulfilling, and quantifiable to meet the immediate needs amplified by the health crisis.

Pam Cannell

However, if we seek to close the gaps of systemic injustice, we must bring resources and connections together to encourage innovative thinking, introduce fresh perspectives, and extend our organizational networks.

Diverse and trained nonprofit boards of directors are needed now, more than ever. We desperately need leaders who are committed to taking the long-term actions necessary to address the growing equity gaps.

No. 1: Remain Focused On Systems Change

Philanthropic and programmatic resource allocation has temporarily, and necessarily, shifted from systems change to immediate needs distribution.

However, those who are suffering the most are those who can least afford to suffer. A large percentage of unemployment due to the pandemic is shouldered by skilled trade workers and small business owners.

We see the African-American population suffering the highest death rate from COVID-19. Those in cramped prisons where the virus has run rampant have been denied a final call to families prior to being placed on a ventilator. Victims of domestic abuse are confined at home with their abusers.

It is imperative that nonprofit board leadership continue to focus on remediating systemic disease while also treating the symptoms.

No. 2: Develop Parallel Strategies

An awareness of how systemic inequities have affected those they serve gives boards of directors the information necessary to develop and implement strategies based on reality. This understanding provides the context for proper resource allocation, effective and strategic action, and deepens the organization’s relevance and impact.

There is a current struggle between the need for long-term system change and the necessity of short-term crisis response. Nonprofit leaders must run parallel strategies to address the immediate needs of their membership while ensuring all community members’ voices are heard. This is the only way to advance toward a just community in which we all thrive.


Nonprofit boards of directors have the opportunities and platforms to bring attention to the systems and policies created to benefit certain groups while excluding or marginalizing others. What’s more, these leaders also have the power to create change.

For those who currently serve on a nonprofit board, now is the time to take action.

Develop internal policies to strengthen your board through training and diversity and begin to build the organizational leadership foundation required to address systems change. If you’ve considered investing your time and talent with a nonprofit committee or board of directors, now is the time to connect with an organization that aligns with your passions and expertise.

Leadership is the key element to any type of collective success, and our communities need leaders. Our communities need advocates. They need committed individuals who are prepared to do the hard, long-term work of looking beyond the symptoms of injustice and willing to treat the disease of systemic inequity itself.

Pam Cannell has dedicated her entire career to nonprofit leadership and board governance, playing an active role in the nonprofit community for more than  25 years. As the CEO of Fort Worth-based BoardBuild, she’s on a mission to strengthen communities through the training and matching of leaders with qualified nonprofit boards. BoardBuild envisions a world where diverse, trained leaders and organizations unite and foster stronger communities in which to work, play, and grow. https://boardbuild.org


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