Diversity in Boards for After-School Programs

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Olivia Camarena |
June 11, 2024 |
For Parents |
Diversity in Boards

In the evolving landscape of after-school programs, the significance of diversity within boards cannot be overstated. Laura Palacios, Senior Director of Indy Summer Learning Labs, kindly shared her expertise with the AfterSchool HQ community. 

During the webinar, Laura Palacios emphasized the need for diverse perspectives that lead your youth program’s board meetings to more innovative and well-rounded decision-making processes. 

But first, let’s start at the beginning, what’s “diversity” when it comes to forming a board? Board diversity encompasses a variety of elements, including race, gender, age, professional background, and more. A board that mirrors the demographics of its community can better understand and address the specific needs and challenges faced by students and their families. 

According to Palacios, “When stakeholders see themselves represented in the board, it builds trust and encourages greater involvement from community donors and partners.” While a diverse board reflects the community it serves, it also drives innovation, improves decision-making, and enhances the overall impact of the organization. 

The Business Case for Diversity

Research from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business highlights that diversity among managers and board members fuels radical innovation and generates both economic and social value. Palacios underscores this point, noting, “To create a truly diverse and effective board, organizations should look beyond the traditional pedigree of Ivy League education and financiers.”

Steps to Building a Diverse Board

Wondering how to create a board that fulfills all your needs? Here, we outline actionable steps to ensure your board reflects and serves the diverse needs of your community. 

1. Audit Your Current Board

Assess the current makeup of your board, including gender, age ranges, race or ethnicity, educational backgrounds, professional backgrounds, and more. Identifying gaps is the first step towards achieving a diverse board.

2. Set Clear Goals

Define what type of diversity you wish to achieve and create a strategic plan to fill those gaps. Palacios advises, “Your plan shouldn’t be longer than three years to implement. Thinking you’ll change the page in one year is unrealistic, but five years might be too long.” In addition, you’ll want to be as diverse as your youth program’s members.

3. Recruit Actively 

Use various methods to recruit diverse board members. This could include reaching out to elected officials, leveraging your networks, or using platforms like LinkedIn. Palacios shares her experience, “I Googled how to find friends as an adult and one of the advice points was to join a board. I reached out to a legislator who then sent my resume to 13 different organizations.”

4. Engage the Community

Conduct surveys and focus groups to understand the needs and preferences of the community you serve. This helps in aligning the board’s objectives with the community’s needs.

Diversity in Boards - team smiling

Overcoming Challenges

While the benefits of a diverse board are clear, the path to achieving it can be challenging. Some organizations may worry about the impact of an all-black or non-diverse board on their ability to secure grants. Palacios provides insight, “Having names on your board that carry weight in the community or industry can influence grant decisions.” However, she points out, your board should ultimately reflect your constituency.

In Short…

Diversity in boards for after-school programs is not just a checkbox but a strategic asset. It enhances problem-solving and fosters trust, in addition to driving a positive organizational performance. By actively working towards a diverse board, after-school programs can better serve their communities and achieve greater success.

As Laura Palacios eloquently puts it, a diverse board can offer insights into new markets and opportunities, resulting in better outcomes and increased capacity to secure funding and support for your initiatives.

For those looking to start or join a board, Palacios advises creating a board-specific resume, reaching out to elected officials, and connecting with organizations that align with your passion. “Don’t be afraid to shoot your shot,” she encourages.


Photography by fauxels via Pexels.