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Study Suggests Board Leadership Diversity Positively Impacts Performance of Nonprofit Organizations

Ruth Bernstein, associate professor of nonprofit management at Seaver College, recently published the journal article, “Decomposing the Impact of Leadership Diversity Among Nonprofit Organizations,” alongside her coauthor, Christopher Fredette, in the scholarly journal, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly. 

The study analyzes the direct and indirect effects of demographic diversity (gender and ethno-racial demography) among board members, board chairs, and chief executives on board performance (functional and social) and organizational performance (mission-centric and financial).

“I hope this article helps us come up with measures we can use to define organizational performance,” says Bernstein. “I want our work to encourage further research concerning the impact of board diversity on organizational performance. Hopefully, the article proves that it matters.”

Bernstein and Fredette measured nonprofit performance by examining three criteria: strategic oversight, internal awareness, and external engagement. From these evaluations, Bernstein and Fredette found that board diversity has a positive impact on nonprofit organizations. More specifically, they discovered that the board chair’s diversity has considerable influence due to their close interaction with the CEO and fellow board members in governing the operation. 

“We have evidence from other studies that the impact of how well the board performs will affect how well the organization will perform,” explains Bernstein. “This study confirms the impact of the board on organizational performance, while additionally emphasizing that board performance is improved by diversifying the board of directors. Ultimately, that includes the board chair.”

Bernstein, who graduated with a Doctorate in Management from Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management, expressed that standards to measure nonprofit performance don’t exist due to the disparate nature of organizations. However, by studying common features of nonprofits, such as the governing board, she and her coauthor offer insight into how operations can be optimized. 

Learn more about Bernstein and Fredette’s research on the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly website.