Communications Essentials for Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives

communicate-sqGood communication is essential for growing an inclusive organization.  Communicating throughout your process will keep people informed and energized about the work and provide transparency for the process – which builds trust. Attention to internal communications also provide your organization with a precious opportunity to practice messaging before communicating externally.

If you’re about to embark on a diversity and inclusion expansion effort at your organization, the process will be much more smooth if you lay out a communications plan in advance of engaging in the work.  But don’t worry – you can easily adapt this if you have already begun your diversity and inclusion efforts. Below is a list of 5 key places along the way where you should pay special attention to your communications:

1. Leadership

There is nothing more important than having your top leadership be fully in support of your diversity and inclusion efforts.  This is not about saying the right words – they should say it in their own words – and they must walk the talk. It comes down to integrity – having a strong belief in the value of inclusiveness, speaking one’s beliefs about that value, and modeling actions based on that value.  If your CEO or Executive Director is questionable on this, your efforts will be seen as false and unsafe – for with one quick decision, s/he could end the whole effort. This is so important that the Denver Foundation, one of the premier organizations involved in nonprofit inclusiveness, states that if you don’t have this support, you should not engage in the work at all.  You can take a readiness survey here to assess your organization’s readiness to engage.

2. Diversity & Inclusion Committee Formation

Forming a committee that will guide your organization through the assessment and recommendations process is essential.   It can also be a painful process if not well thought-out.  Consider answering the following questions below before launching the Committee.

  • What’s the purpose of the committee?
  • What is the intended end result of the committee’s work?
  • How long is the committee’s work intended for?
  • Who gets to be a part of this committee?  Is there a selection process?  Are there clear criteria for selections?  Can people volunteer to serve on the committee?   Who makes decisions about committee participation?
  • What’s the “job” description for committee service?   What’s the time commitment?  What’s the expectation of supervisors of staff who would like to participate?
  • How will people be involved who do not serve on the committee?

3. Regular Committee Communications

Diversity and inclusion efforts can quickly become subject to rumor in an information vacuum.  Our country’s history on inclusion has left an imprint on people – when they don’t hear about positive movement forward, many people will assume no movement – especially those who have been subject to past failed initiatives.  It’s critical that your committee make a plan for regular updates about progress and next steps.  If you’re in the assessment phase, something as simple as a quarterly update that includes a map with where you started, where you are and where you’re going is quite helpful. If you’ve completed your plan and are in implementation phase, this should be a regular report on progress – where you started, what your targets are and how far you’ve come on reaching your targets.  It also provides everyone in the organization with valuable information about the process so they are not left uninformed in the face of outside questions.  You are equipping your staff and board with the proper tools to talk about the initiative and it’s purpose.  It’s also a long-term investment in the shaping of your internal culture, providing people with ample opportunities for practice.

4. Report Sharing

Are you collecting information as part of an assessment process? [if not, you should be – how else will you track your success?]  Are you collecting information along the way on progress toward objectives?  You absolutely must share these results with your stakeholders – especially your staff and board.   You can share all manner of aggregate data.  If in the assessment phase, be careful about protecting the confidentiality of your information sources and avoid individual finger-pointing – keep your data and reporting in aggregate form with a focus on the future and who you’d like the organization to become.  Sharing your results serves two key purposes:

  • Your stakeholders feel involved.   They have access to the reports driving your initiative.  They can see the process unfolding and have likely played a part in contributing their thoughts during your assessment phase.  They have ownership.
  • Your stakeholders are engaging in a process of change themselves.   By reading about the process, engaging in thinking and reflecting with their peers, and seeing the collective landing places, they will understand how and why you land on final recommendations – before you get there.  In essence, everyone is traveling the road together and although some may be at the head of the pack and some near the back, all will move forward together.

5. Input Gathering

Communication is a two-way street.  You must engage your stakeholders in this work, not tell them how it’s going to be.  In order to do that, you must seek their input, weave that input into your assessment and planning processes and then show people how their input is involved.  This builds credibility and legitimacy while also strengthening collective involvement and engagement.


If you’re just getting started on your diversity and inclusion work, click here for articles and information about first steps.  Running into some problems?  Here are some trouble-shooting articles to help you get back on the path again.

Kathleen LaTosch, MSW, specializes in working with nonprofit organizations to help them improve and expand their diversity and inclusiveness.  Read more here about how a consultant can help you optimize success in your efforts.