4 Action Steps for Nonprofit Diversity & Inclusion

first things firstMany nonprofit organizations feel challenged at the task of recruiting a racially diverse staff.   They may have tried a number of things unsuccessfully or feel unsure of how to start the work.  Organizations such as these often have a majority white staff – especially at the top.

I call these historically white organizations – nonprofits founded and run by well-intentioned and passionate white individuals who want to make a difference in the world, but are struggling with how to make that happen in an inclusive way.

In starting from these roots, there is often a strong values-based sense of “doing the right thing,” but board and top leadership haven’t been able to successfully build a racially diverse staff throughout the organization.  As is often the case, nonprofit organizations may have a relatively diverse staff at the lower-paying end of the hierarchy, with dominant white culture staff holding most of the top leadership positions.  Alternatively, sometimes the program area of a nonprofit will have a diverse staff, while administration and development departments remain homogenous.

The good news is, if you’re already building a diverse staff, even at the lower-paying end of the spectrum, you’re on the right track.  Having a diverse staff, even if imbalanced, is a common step toward building a more diverse and inclusive staff – you just need to keep going and deepen the work.

Resources exist to help nonprofit organizations build staff diversity and inclusion.  “Building Inclusive Nonprofit Organizations,”  published by the Denver Foundation, is an excellent resource I’ve used.   It includes a step-by-step guide and detailed manual for helping you to lead your organization through a successful diversity and inclusion process.  It helps you identify your goals and set a framework for how to reach those goals.

Strategies for Diverse Talent,” published by the Independent Sector, is another resource I’ve been exploring.  This report was created by the 2013-2014 Class of Fellows.  They reviewed the literature on effective practices for building diverse nonprofit organizations, interviewed organizational development experts around the country, then compiled a set of best practices and tested them on the National Audubon Society.  The result was a framework for nonprofit diversity and inclusion practices which includes four “Quick Wins” – strategies that are low cost, easy to implement, and have quick results.   I used this framework for a recent talk on nonprofit staff diversity and inclusion, adapting it to a human service model, and found it really useful.

Let’s explore the four “Quick Wins” and some concrete strategies that can help you and your nonprofit organization move ahead with staff diversity and inclusion.

Quick Win #1: Leverage broader recruitment sources.  Post on diverse job boards, attend diverse community festivals and job fairs, etc.  

Many organizations continue to post to the same places they’ve always posted jobs and fail to achieve different results.  They also use their own interpersonal networks, which for a historically white organization, usually means a white network.  Organizations must re-think the ways in which they are posting positions and cast a wider and more strategic net.  Are you tapping into historically black colleges and universities or, if you don’t have any locally, to those colleges and universities with a diverse student body in your region?  What diverse community fairs and festivals are in your region?  Are you connected with your local Urban League?  What diverse community cultural centers can your organization be involved with?

Secondly, many nonprofit organizations source staff from interns and volunteers.  Where do your interns and volunteers come from?  Are you turning to a largely white network for referrals?  In order to create a more diverse pool, identify organizations serving and connecting with people of color and offer opportunities.  It’s important to diversify the pipeline feeding your intern and volunteer streams.

Quick Win #2: Articulate diversity and inclusion to your organization.  Send messaging from leadership about why diversity and inclusion is important and make sure every staff member is knowledgeable about the organization’s vision on this.

This is an important step but it requires that the nonprofit organization already have a clear diversity and inclusion statement.  If you don’t already have it, you need to establish one.  Without a clear statement, it will be impossible to articulate the organization’s vision on diversity and inclusion.  And unless organizational leadership is fully on board, it simply won’t stick.  The process for establishing your diversity and inclusion values should be collaborative – it should include a group of cross-organizational people as co-authors who create a draft, reflect it back in staff and board meetings for input, make necessary revisions, then request formal adoption by the board of directors.  A well-crafted and promoted values statement provides clear direction for the organization’s actions and gives staff and other stakeholders a language and foundation for making complex decisions related to diversity and inclusion.  Board adoption institutionalizes the values, maintaining consistency through future leadership changes.

Quick Win #3: Replicate best practices across the organization.  Identify two areas where diversity and inclusion are working well within the organization and replicate them.

This suggestion helps organizations frame the work from a solution-focused perspective; it energizes your staff and highlights the “bright spots” that are working well.  It can be a wonderful way to engage more staff in the process.  Some key questions to ask: what is your organization doing well on diversity and inclusion?  Are there programmatic elements that can be adapted for staff development?  Is your youth work cutting edge when it comes to diversity and inclusion?  Can the youth present to staff – an idea that supports both youth leadership development and broader staff awareness.  Do you offer diverse and inclusive programs and events to the community?  How can that be adapted for staff?  Can staff be encouraged to attend?

Quick Win #4: Cultivate partnerships.  Convene a small group of thought leaders, across the field, for roundtable discussion.

This is a wonderful way to build connection across nonprofit organizations, strengthen and foster relationships, and, in the process, infuse diverse ideas, practices and programs into your organization.  Some concrete items that can come from these relationships:

  • Cross-cultural training opportunities for staff
  • Job posting and volunteer exchanges
  • Deeper issue education and awareness
  • Programming partnerships and collaborations

A word on cost.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money on developing diverse and inclusive practices, but you will have to devote time and people energy.

Nonprofit staff typically wear many hats, work many hours and have to be highly resourceful to make ends meet.  Identifying a single staff member to coordinate diversity and inclusion activities when they already have a full-time job description, is a recipe for disaster.  Balls will get dropped; other priorities will press and the one tasked with the work will be unduly burdened and unfairly blamed for ineffectiveness.  There’s just not enough time in the day.

For maximum effectiveness, diversity and inclusion work needs to be spread out among a broad range of organizational stakeholders, who each do some of the work and be ideally coordinated by an outside third party.  This maximizes focus on the plan, reduces internal conflicts of interest and power struggles, and considerably shortens the work time frame by focusing energy on the most effective strategies.

Having a simple, actionable plan ahead of you can make the work much easier and there are many free tools and resources to help you with the work.  Here’s a quick checklist from this blog for moving your work forward: Checklist – 4 Wins in 5 Steps.

Read Part 10: Nonprofit Diversity Recruiting: Who’s in Your Pool?


This is one post in a multi-part story documenting one historically white organization’s journey toward becoming racially inclusive.  The series seeks to document the challenges and successes faced along the way in an effort to provide a learning tool for other nonprofit organizations who wish to do the same.  For a complete copy of Affirmations’ “Blueprint for Change” visit www.GoAffirmations.org and click on About Us.Kathleen LaTosch at NCRC Annual Conference 2012 
Kathleen LaTosch is a consultant specializing in diversity and inclusion planning for nonprofit organizations.  She worked at Affirmations, Michigan’s largest LGBT organization, from 2002-2011 and served as Chief Administrative Officer from 2007-2011.  While there, she was responsible for facilitating a broad-based racial diversity and inclusion initiative.  For more information about Kathleen’s work and availability, email her at klatosch at gmail.com

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