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Bringing new voices to your board

“Nothing about us without us.” It’s an idea that spurred revolutionary Bostonians to toss tea overboard in 1773, shouting, “No taxation without representation!” And for decades, it’s been the rallying cry of disability advocates, who insist that people with disabilities have a voice in every policy and personal decision that affects them. It’s also a great guiding principle for board recruitment.


Many organizations in Georgia are preparing emerging leaders and diverse voices for board service.

My Voice. My Participation. My Board.

The Georgia State University Center for Leadership in Disability, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, trains individuals with developmental disabilities and their facilitators for service on boards and advisory councils. Contact Susanna Miller-Raines at [email protected].

United Way's Volunteer Involvement Program (VIP):

United Way of Greater Atlanta started VIP in 1992 to identify, recruit, and place diverse leaders from greater Atlanta into policy-making roles, enhancing the effectiveness of nonprofit agencies in our community.

The Atlanta Women's Foundation Women on Board:

Created in 2000, the Women on Board program was designed to increase women’s representation on nonprofit boards in Metro Atlanta by providing effective governance training and connecting participants to nonprofit organizations.

Georgia Tech's Net Impact Club Board Fellows:

Based at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business, nonprofits can recruit MBA students to serve on boards in one-year, ex-officio positions, bringing a youthful perspective to boards while giving MBA students valuable experience.

GCN Community Leader Connections:

To make a transformative difference in nonprofit boards, GCN equips professionals from our statewide partner network—in corporate, government, and other organizations—to be effective board leaders, then helps match them with nonprofits where their passions, talents, and diverse points-of-view are most needed. Contact Justin Banta at [email protected].

Google “board matrix,” and you’ll come up with plenty of spreadsheets designed to guide board recruitment. Most of these focus on a diversity of expertise and resources that board members can bring to your organization, as well as demographic diversity: race, age, gender, disability, sexual orientation. Diversity ensures you have the wide range of expertise that every nonprofit needs, but few can afford, and it broadens your reach with new audiences of potential supporters. Critically, it also assures you have a wide variety of life experiences, perspectives, and leadership styles to draw upon, leading to more robust dialogue, better-vetted decisions, and an enriched vision for your organization.

One characteristic left off of most board matrices has to do with the critical question of voice. Do you have all the right voices in the room to make the best decisions for your organization? Nonprofits are incredibly complex organizations with a long list of stakeholders, from the people and communities we serve, to public and private funders, to volunteers and employees, to collaborative partners and regulators. The board has no way to stay true to the mission if its members never engage in a meaningful way with every group served by it. The questions to ask first: Does our board have the diversity of voices to represent all stakeholders? Do we know how our decisions will affect, and be received by, each group? 

Diversity assures you have a wide variety of life experiences, perspectives, and leadership styles to draw upon, leading to more robust dialogue, bettervetted decisions, and an enriched vision for your organization. 

Many boards already reserve seats for client representatives, but giving that person a seat is not enough. I once heard someone say that diversity is not about inviting a new person to your party, but making sure they have a good time when they arrive. Once the people we serve are represented on our board, are we providing all the support they need to understand the board’s work? Are we building their relationships with more seasoned members, so they feel comfortable contributing to discussions? 

One goal of the Frazer Center is to empower adults with developmental disabilities to be self-advocating, so their voices are heard in decisions that affect them at home, in our program, and in their communities. Two of Frazer’s self-advocates were recently chosen for a unique opportunity with Georgia State University’s Center for Leadership in Disability. Through the Center’s “My Voice. My Participation. My Board.” program, they have each completed six days of face-to-face training on engaged and effective board participation, backed up by ongoing coaching and networking opportunities, to prepare them to serve on boards and advisory councils. As I supported one of Frazer Center’s participants through the training, I was energized by the gifts, passion, and perspective each trainee demonstrated, and struck by the value they could bring to a board. Some were already serving in leadership roles at organizations like People First of Georgia, and others have since been named to the advisory board for the Georgia Council for Developmental Disabilities, an independent state agency. Still others are prepared, and eager, to answer a call to serve.

If you are looking to broaden your perspective and reach, there is no better way than looking at your board, identifying which voices are still needed at the table, and inviting people who can fill those gaps to serve. Just be sure to support these new voices—especially those new to board service—and make sure the rest of the board is ready to listen.

Paige McKay Kubik is Executive Director of the Frazer Center, an inclusive community where people of all ages and abilities gather, learn, and flourish together.

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