Nonprofit Diversity & Inclusion: Getting Started

GoWelcome!  Below are three first steps which will give any nonprofit organization a solid beginning for creating an actionable diversity and inclusion plan.  If you’ve already begun this work, you may be able to self-facilitate these steps, however using a skilled consultant will help you mitigate the effects of internal power dynamics, identify potential sore spots and ensure a smoother, more timely process.

STEP ONE – Identify who will do the work

Form a group of people who will move the diversity and inclusion initiative forward. Your group of people (at least 3) – many call it a Diversity & Inclusion Committee – should include either the Executive Director/CEO of the organization or someone in a top leadership role who is directly connected with the ED/CEO and has the power to move action items forward.  The committee should also include someone who is knowledgeable about diversity and inclusion.  This can be a skilled staff member, a volunteer, or a paid consultant.

Why is the committee important?   Nonprofit staff are busy, often wearing 2-3 hats and diversity and inclusion efforts can fall below other organizational priorities and last minute deadlines.  A group of committed individuals will keep the work moving forward.   You must be intentional and action-oriented in your efforts and that means identifying the people and adequate time to devote to the effort.

STEP TWO – figure out your “why”

Articulate why this is important to your organization. Craft a values statement which will provide the foundation for all of your diversity & inclusion actions and decisions.

Why is this step important?  Many folks move right to the “doing” part of the work.  We need more diverse staff.  We need a more diverse board. We need to do better outreach to specific communities – our marketing is too Eurocentric…  These are all important concerns, but if you move to working on the action items before having a clear understanding of why it’s important, you’ll leave your spokespeople (all board and staff) ill-prepared to have meaningful conversations about the importance of diversity, inclusion and equity to your organization.  You risk making only surface-level changes that don’t dive deeply into the organizational culture, of becoming diverse for diversity’s sake without a clear understanding about the value of inclusiveness.

Articulating why this is important will provide a firm foundation for the entire organization – the words to speak intelligently and meaningfully about diversity and inclusion – for you and your staff and board.   It will further tie diversity and inclusion values directly to your mission and tell outside people what you’re doing about it. It builds commitment.

How you write a values statement – four key components:

  1. How your organization defines diversity and inclusion.
  2. Why diversity and inclusion are important to your organization’s mission.
  3. What you are doing to advance diversity and inclusion.
  4. How people will be able to tell you are doing it.

There are a few of participatory exercises you can use to gather information about these key components from your stakeholders.  At a minimum, you should involve internal stakeholders such as board and staff in the discussion.

  • Host a brainstorming session with both staff and board. This can be done jointly or separately, based on the power dynamics that exist between your staff and board, or perhaps just sheer convenience.  Be sure you are providing a safe space for all participants to share their opinions.  An outside, third party facilitator can alleviate inherent power conflicts.  Be sure your facilitator is skilled in preparing groups to engage in these conversations, adept at managing conflicts that may arise during discussion, and has experience with similar initiatives in order to be an effective helper and guide in the process.
  • Discuss defining both diversity and inclusion for your organization. This worksheet from The Inclusivity Project by The Denver Foundation can help  Additionally, here’s a great sample definition that provides good starter language:
  • Discuss the benefits to your organization for building greater inclusion – think about the benefits for advancing the mission, improving programs, changing marketing/communications strategies, operations. Here’s another worksheet from The Inclusivity Project which can help:
  • Once you’ve completed these activities, enlist your Diversity & Inclusion Committee in the process of drafting a Diversity & Inclusion Values Statement based on the information gathered from your brainstorming sessions.  Make sure the statement includes the Four Key Components listed at the beginning of this article.
  • Share the statement with both staff and board, then revise.
  • Ask the Board of Directors to issue a formal resolution approving the Diversity & Inclusion Values Statement.
  • Share your statement broadly – post it at building entrances, on your website, in job postings.

Step three – assess your strengths & weaknesses

Assess your diversity and inclusion needs.  Convene a meeting with your staff to discuss your strengths and weaknesses as an organization relative to diversity and inclusion.   While some organizations may want to include board members, staff are usually most knowledgeable about the day-to-day operations of an organization and have clear insights into what’s working and what’s not working.

The Council of Michigan Foundations has a useful tool to help get the conversation rolling, called “Is Your Foundation Leveraging the Power of Differences?”  While the target audience is meant for foundations, it can easily be adapted for nonprofit organizations.  You can access it here.

You’ll want to identify a neutral, skilled person to facilitate the conversation and block off at least two hours to have conversation and reflection time.  Make sure you provide the packet to staff in advance and ask them to read and record their thoughts – coming prepared for discussion.  Once assembled, break into small groups of 3-4 people each and have them record their ideas and report back to the larger group.

What’s next?

Now that you’ve assessed what kinds of changes you think need to happen, there are a number of next steps to determining exactly what to do and how to go about it, including:

  • Prioritizing and sequencing the ideas you’ve collected.  Which ones are of paramount importance?  Which ones are easiest to implement; which are more complex?  Which ones have a prerequisite step for success?
  • Identifying your organization’s capacity limits.   How much time are staff expected to devote to the effort?  Are they supported in managing their time to include diversity and inclusion tasks?  Have you included diversity & inclusion training as an objective?  Will that cost time and money?  Is that in your budget?
  • Reviewing best practices for nonprofit diversity & inclusion.  Which ideas will work best?  Which have been successfully tested by other nonprofit organizations?  Which ones will be best able to push your organization along with maximum effectiveness?

Engage your Diversity & Inclusion Committee on further exploring these areas.   This can be self-facilitated, however unless you have a diversity & inclusion professional on your staff, it usually takes much longer than it would if you hired an outside consultant.  Some organizations will take 6-12 months to move from ideas to concrete plan.  This can reduce energy and excitement about the work and feed the fears of staff who have been through unsuccessful diversity and inclusion efforts in the past.  It’s important to keep the momentum going.

A Word of Caution

As just mentioned , one of the number one fears that staff have of engaging in diversity and inclusion initiatives is, “what if I lend all this energy to this process and nothing happens?”  While it may seem a small investment – just some staff time – it has a high emotional price tag for staff members who are very interested and committed to growing more diverse and inclusive workplaces.  Lack of follow-through on the stated values may lead staff to “check out” or become less invested.

On the flip side, many others have participated in activities that have resulted in putting them on the defensive and shutting them down; they may be wary of participating in another similar process.

Moral of the story?  Be sure you’re ready before starting.  Here’s a quick online assessment that will help you determine if you are ready to engage.

Doing it on your own?  Visit these links for more information on: 5 Action Steps for Getting Started, Diversity Recruiting 101, Expanding your Recruiting Pool, Mentoring Programs, and the Importance of Transparency.

Interested in learning more about how a consultant can help?  Read my Frequently Asked Questions page.


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 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

What Does Getting Commitment from the Top Look Like?


Perhaps one of most pressing questions from people who are working on best practices for diversity and inclusion is “what if we do all this work – collecting information and making recommendations for change – and nothing happens?”  For volunteers and staff who are members of diverse groups, this means, “hey, if you want me to put a lot of time and energy into this, I want some reassurance that the organization is actually going to implement the recommendations once they are made.”  There’s a fear, usually based on one’s real, lived experience, that suggestions and recommendations for change will not be heard or prioritized by organizational leadership.

And they’re right.   Sometimes that happens.  Sometimes the best laid plans are all for naught.  There’s a reason people are fearful.  Sometimes, when push comes to shove, organizational leadership deems the recommendations too difficult or time-consuming to implement.  They might say, “Why should we prioritize this issue – we need to focus on raising money.”  Or, “We have a mission and that’s our priority.”  Or even, “Isn’t this just catering to ‘fringe’ groups?”

The last thing you want to happen at your organization is for these fears to be realized.  Not only could it undermine the whole process, but it will damage your organization’s reputation on diversity and inclusion.  It will make it much tougher to successfully do this work in the future.

It’s important to set the stage early, before you do the work, to ensure commitment from each critical person whose approval will be required to move the recommendations forward once complete.  In the case of a small nonprofit organization, this means securing commitment from the board and staff, at a minimum.  It could also include key volunteers – people who will be charged with implementing action items.

Within Affirmations’ Multicultural Advisory Committee (MAC), the group had established a base trust and had identified a solid model from which to work – the Denver Foundation’s Inclusivity Project.  Once the committee laid eyes on the 300+ page guidebook, there was a pause.  No one was ready to commit to that depth of work without ensuring that the board and Executive Director would back a completed plan 150%.   This was stage two of building trust – asking the leadership of the organization for a commitment to accountability, in advance of doing the work.

It was an important step and solidly prepared the way for future work to be completed.  The Multicultural Advisory Committee (MAC) asked the Board of Directors to make a formal resolution supporting its work.  In a May 2009 meeting, the Board acted on that request, putting the resolution in writing, documenting it in the public minutes of the board record.  That resolution was then brought back to the MAC at their next meeting and presented to the full committee by the President of the Board of Directors.  This record was kept in the committee and board member files.

For groups that come together from a painful experience, this action provides a much-needed support and trust base from which to work.   This may not be the case for all organizations, and not all organizations may feel they need to gain this level of formality around their efforts, but it can also be a preventative step that protects the work from being derailed in the future.  This formality provides a measure of organizational accountability when board members or Executive Directors leave the organization and establishes a measure of expectation for their replacements.

After working diligently for two years, during which time there was  a whirlwind of change at the organization including the 10-month appointment of an interim executive director and the hiring of a new executive director, doubts arose about whether or not Affirmations should finish the work of the Multicultural Advisory Committee.  The board resolution and the Statement of Inclusiveness Principles (which will be discussed in the next blog) were the two documents that kept the work moving forward.

Read Part 6: Beyond Diversity Programs: Planting Seeds for Systemic Change

More articles on getting commitment from the top:
Expanding Diversity Requires Executive Commitment, Speakers Say.  Jeff Elder, Digits Tech News (Dec. 10, 2014)


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 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