After going through a process of outlining the strengths and weaknesses of the Chattanooga Design Studio's board of directors, Chairman Ethan Collier identified a lack of diversity among board members in regards to age, race, skill sets, length of time in Chattanooga and types of work experience.
In an effort to bring in more diversity, he looked outside the typical method of finding new members: recommendations from current members, which often leads to candidates from within the same social and professional networks.
In his search, Collier utilized Board Connector, a web platform founded by Chattanooga City Attorney Wade Hinton in June.
Hinton, who has served on a number of boards for area nonprofits, noticed that while Chattanooga is a diverse community, the boards on which he served did not reflect that. Recognizing the boards' challenge in identifying diverse talent, he felt a web platform would be a good way to address the problem by connecting boards with a wider net of individuals looking for a way to serve their community.
Minorities and women, two under-represented groups on local boards, may register with the site at boardconnector.org, indicating their skill sets and what types of nonprofits they are interested in serving. Nonprofits that are intentionally recruiting diverse members may also register through the site, providing information on the types of talent and skills they are looking for. Board Connector's project coordinator then matches nonprofits with individuals whose interests and needs align, and recommends individuals to the appropriate boards.
"We were able to say, 'Here's the talent we're looking for and here's what's missing on our board,' and they were able to set us up with someone who was a really great match," Collier said of the Design Studio's experience using the platform. "We were able to go outside our personal networks and into a broader network of individuals who would be a good fit. It was a really helpful tool."
Since the program's launch, 25 people have been recommended and just under 20 have been placed, said Hinton. Placements have been at organizations signing up through the site as well as with the program's six initial partner organizations: Benwood Foundation, Community Foundation, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, Chattanooga Women's Leadership Institute, Urban League of Greater Chattanooga and the city of Chattanooga.
Travis Lytle, a Board Connector adviser who serves on a multitude of area boards, said the platform is beneficial to both the individuals and the nonprofits.
"Being a minority gives another perspective to the organization you're serving," he said. "You get benefits through networking opportunities — as a minority, you may not always have the opportunity to network with the type of people you'd be on a board with."
He said serving on a board also helps prepare people for executive positions by providing experience such as hiring CEOs or investigating internal scandals.
"It's a great way to use your experience to help others," Lytle said. "If you want to help your community, there's something out there for you to do, and we're trying to connect with people in the community who haven't been previously tapped for a position."
During the first quarter of 2018, Board Connector is rolling out a second version of its website, which Hinton said will have a crisper look and allow both individuals and nonprofits to create profiles and interact directly.
The platform has already attracted the attention of other cities that have similar issues connecting nonprofits with diverse talent looking for opportunities to serve, said Hinton, and he hopes to introduce the platform outside Chattanooga in the future.
To register or find out more, visit boardconnector.org.