Nonprofit Diversity Recruiting – Who’s in Your Pool?

swimmers“The truth is, when it comes down to hiring,  people tend to hire the people they want to spend time with, regardless of who applies for the job and often those people are people they share common interests and experiences with, people who tend to come from the same background. ”  

There are a number of common suggestions for recruiting for staff diversity:  listing job postings with diverse job boards, networking with culturally diverse organizations, connecting with HCBUs, participating in diverse job fairs, etc.

According to a study by Lauren A. Rivera in a report put out by the American Sociological Association, the truth is when it comes down to hiring,  people tend to hire the people they want to spend time with – regardless of who applies for the job – and often those people are people they share common interests and experiences with, people who tend to come from the same background.  If your personal networks are people who all look like you, you’re still going to have a problem, and we’re not even talking retention yet – we’re just talking about getting people in the door.

This New York Times article details how many of today’s top employers rely extensively on internal referrals.  And it makes sense – you want to hire someone good, someone who will do top notch work and help your organization rise – you want someone with a known track record. It makes sense to hire people you know or that come from a trusted referral.

So, who’s in your pool?  

According to the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2013 American Values Survey, the degree of diversity in one’s personal networks vary greatly based on race.  For the average white American, 91% of their personal network is also white – with 1% each of a number of different races and ethnicities.   For 75% of white Americans, their entire network is white.  For historically white organizations, personal networks are key.  If your circle is homogeneous, your short-list of preferred applicants will be too.

The ASAE Center recommends strategies that get at this personal network issue – get people in the pool before you need to swim.  This is absolutely true for small and mid-sized nonprofit organizations who may rely extensively on internal networking due to the availability of fewer HR resources.

How do you get new people in your pool?

One way is to expand your own personal network.  Even better? Encourage all staff and board members to expand their personal networks too.  Expanding these networks not only results in greater diversity among potential candidates, but has several valuable (and free) benefits:

  1. Broad-based diversification of personal networks. It deepens the awareness and education of each staff/board member regarding the critical issues facing that community while also reducing cultural assumptions based on lack of knowledge.  A key element in reducing unconscious bias is the building of personal relationships with those different from oneself.
  2. Deeper organizational connection to and with specific communities. The relationships that develop can create valuable programming partnerships, cross-issue advocacy, and expanded resource options.
  3. Better outreach. It raises the public profile of both organizations who are working together to achieve a greater common good and extends each organization’s marketing reach.

Once community partnerships are formed, the relationships have greater potential to last beyond individual leadership changes because they are entrenched in the organizational DNA.

When we worked on a racial inclusiveness initiative at Affirmations, Metro Detroit’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community center, a group of staff and community members came together to brainstorm actionable and measureable ways to make this happen. Since Affirmations was struggling with having a largely white board and staff, specific encouragements were provided for both staff and board to help them build their own personal network and subsequently make more diverse referrals for open positions.

Recommendations for expanding your nonprofit’s pool:

For the board of directors:

  • Ask all board members to participate in 4-hour diversity and inclusion training within first 6 months of service (offered monthly).
  • Encourage board members to build a relationship with one organization serving a community different from their own and annually attend their events and network with members.
  • Invite board members to participate in a community leaders forum that included board members from other nonprofit organizations serving diverse constituents.
  • Ask all board members  to recommend one person of color for board service each year. This last item was supported by the work of the first three items.

For staff:

  • Require all staff to participate in 4-hour diversity and inclusion training within the first 90 days of employment.
  • Encourage staff members to build a deeper relationship with a “sister” organization serving a more diverse constituency – learn from that organization’s best practices, offer support in areas of expertise, build relevant and effective programming partnerships and join together on mutual advocacy issues. Have each  identify and network with a contact at each agency to support and encourage the establishment of deeper relationships among individuals at each organization.
  • Encourage every member to refer one person of color to the organization for hire each year.

Together, these ideas aimed at deepening cross-cultural relationships, fostering strong organizational partnerships and driving organic cross-cultural learning and thinking. Expectations for making referrals is paired with actions each person can take to successfully build and diversify their own networks.  They say “it’s all about relationships” – deepening relationships among people across cultural differences is key to arriving at that interview comfortably and confidently – for both the interviewee and interviewer.

Part 11: Why Should Nonprofit Invest in Diversity & Inclusion Work?  Arguments for the Budget


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 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 led a broad-based racial diversity and inclusion initiative.  For more information about Kathleen’s work and availability, email her at klatosch at

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