RadioBDC Logo
| Listen Live
< Back to front page Text size +

First census of women on nonprofit boards gives new insights

Posted by Chad O'Connor  May 10, 2013 11:00 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

The Boston Club, a premier organization of women executives and professionals promoting the advancement of women to significant and visible leadership roles, has taken notice of the major role nonprofits play in the economy and conducted the first ever Census of Women Directors and Chief Executives of Massachuetts’ Largest Nonprofit Organizations to see how nonprofits stack up. Nonprofits generate $234 billion in revenues and nonprofit jobs represented 16.7% of the total employment in Massachusetts in 2010.

It turns out women represent 35% of all nonprofit board seats of the 142 largest nonprofit organizations in Massachusetts and 20% of the chief executives of those organizations. 124 of the organizations have 3 or more women on their boards. Only 1 organization has no women on either its board or in the chief executive position.

Of the 150 largest nonprofits, 39% are in healthcare and 34% are in education. Other areas include Arts, Culture, Humanities; Human Services; and Science, Technology, Research and Engineering.

What does this information tell us? Compared to corporate boards, which have only 12.7% women directors in the 100 largest companies in Massachusetts, the numbers are good but more progress needs to be made.

The census was distributed at the recent Boston Club Community Salute event, a major event that honors and celebrates all women who volunteer, according to The Boston Club’s Executive Director, Constance Armstrong.

“The Club has wanted to do a nonprofit census for several years. This is the first-ever census of its kind in Massachusetts. The role women play in nonprofits and in philanthropy is changing, the ways women give are changing, and how nonprofits looks at the communities they serve is changing. This is a good time to look at the governance of these major nonprofits,” said Armstrong.

The Boston Club Community Salute, May 3, 2013

From L - R: Laura Ramanis, Mercer;
Ruth Aaron, TBC Non Profit Board Committee Chair;
Jacqueline Zehner, Keynote speaker, CEO, Women Moving Millions;
JoAnn Cavallaro, TBC President;
Susan Hammond, TBC Event Chair;
and Beverly Brown, TBC Non Profit Census Chair

The Boston Club is using the first census as a benchmark and will conduct the census biennially. For over 20 years, The Boston Club has worked collaboratively with local and regional nonprofit organizations to identify and recruit qualified women for positions such as directors, trustees, and overseers and has placed over 200 women on nonprofit boards.

“The Boston Club believes looking at nonprofit leadership is as important as reviewing the corporate side, especially given the significant role nonprofits play in the Massachusetts economy,” said Armstrong.

When asked why more women serve on nonprofit boards than for-profit boards, Dr. Beverly Brown, Chair of The Boston Club’s Nonprofit Census Committee, said “One reason may be that the average number of board members for nonprofits is 23 compared to 8 for corporate boards. The dollar sign flows the other way with nonprofits. Corporate board positions are paid, and more board positions can be made available in nonprofits since nonprofit board positions are not paid, and members volunteer their time, talent and treasures,” said Brown.

Helen Drinan, Simmons College President, said “We have a culture that sees women in less impactful or powerful positions. Only exceptional women rise to the top. We don't have enough major institutions in the country acknowledging what women can bring to the table.”

According to Drinan, there must be a sharing of power. “We need men at the highest levels to help change the culture so both women and men can advance based on capability rather than gender. Men need to figure out how to engage younger men so they work together with women instead of against them. It is a loss for our country to not tap the full human capabilities of all,” said Drinan.

In a prior company Drinan worked for, the most senior-level people had off-site training where they were put through a series of scenarios and learned what it is like to be in the shoes of others, such as being a woman or culturally different. Drinan suggested that type of training can be an effective way of changing beliefs and behavior in the workplace.

Questions that will be answered in future reports include:

  • Why aren’t the numbers greater?

  • Are there differences between the responsibilities of nonprofit and for-profit boards that affect the difference in numbers between the two?

  • What are nonprofits doing to increase the numbers?

  • Is there a correlation between the gender of the chief executive and the gender of the board?

  • How do women directors and executives fare in ongoing mergers of nonprofits?

  • Brown hopes nonprofits looking to increase the number of women on their boards will be inspired to reach out to The Boston Club for assistance with filling those positions. For more information, visit

    Ellen Keiley is President of the MBA Women International Boston Chapter Board of Directors, serves as a Vice Chair of the United Way and City Year’s Women’s Leadership Initiatives, serves on the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Women’s Advisory Council, is a member of The Boston Club, appears weekly on RadioBDC’s Global Business Hub segment, and writes for The Women’s Book and Project Eve. She can be contacted at
    This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
    The author is solely responsible for the content.

    E-mail this article

    Invalid E-mail address
    Invalid E-mail address

    Sending your article

    Boston World Partnerships' expert "Connectors" discuss business strategy, entrepreneurship, Boston's place in the world economy, and much more. Using their insider perspective, they illuminate how Boston's innovative companies start, grow, scale, and go global.

    Meet Boston's coolest, smartest and most dynamic founders in our REEL Innovators video series!