5 Ways to Promote Diversity in Your Nonprofit

Hiring members of underrepresented groups in your nonprofit can increase your organization’s number of donors and responsiveness to clients as well as improve its critical thinking, according to one expert.

By Maddie Bro

Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Garner in Staten Island, New York. Scott in Charleston, South Carolina. The infamous murders of three unarmed African-Americans in recent months resurrected the social justice motives of civil and social rights movements from the 1960s.

In light of these recent tragedies, governance and gender consultant Ann Lehman states that the need to create inclusive organizations is as critical today as it was some five decades ago. The Chronicle of Philanthropy posted Lehman’s opinion article titled “Need for Diversity at Nonprofits Is More Vital After Garner and Brown Cases,” in which she discusses methods for promoting diversity in the nonprofit sector.

Lehman borrows an inclusivity mindset found to be beneficial in the for-profit, business world to make her argument for increased gender and racial representation on non-profit boards and staffs. She says that “greater diversity helps expand the pool of donors willing to support charities, improves the quality of strategic thinking at organizations, and makes them more responsive to the needs of clients and better able to attract the most talented workers.”

To further illustrate her point, Lehman outlines five key steps for increasing diversity within your nonprofit.

  1. Make diversity a top priority. Lehman notes in the example she provides that the sample organization purposely did not require a job candidate to already be known by the organization’s executive leadership. Also, its search committee asked a search firm to contact candidates within varying fields, races, ethnicities, and ages.
  2. Transparency and accountability. Disclosing representation within your nonprofit’s workplace and boardroom is the first step in making change, Lehman says. Identifying quantitative standards that are in compliance with legal requirements will help implement change as well.
  3. Encourage workplace flexibility. Lehman says welcoming flexibility into your workplace can increase innovation, quality, productivity, and marketshare. She encourages nonprofit employers to recognize that while millennials and high-achieving workers take breaks, they often have the mentality of making the hours count rather than counting the hours. Flexibility is a good policy.
  4. Create an inclusive environment. Of course, to implement diversification in your nonprofit, you need to follow through with your goals. Initiate conversations about what diversity means to your organization. Address difficult subjects and conversations surrounding race, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, and other cultural stereotypes. Hire a diversity officer who ensures these goals are met.
  5. Diversify your board of directors. When board members of differentiated backgrounds are hired, introducing them may pose some difficulties. Continuing to make these hires and genuinely welcoming these folks will reduce awkwardness over time.

Social and civil rights movements revitalized in recent months may turn to your advocacy-oriented nonprofits for leadership, guidance, and a site for which to volunteer and donate. Lehman’s suggestions for increased diversity will help your nonprofit take advantage of these opportunities, and ultimately, see greater long-term success.

About the blogger – Maddie Bro is a third-year undergraduate student studying journalism and gender/women’s studies at the University of Iowa. Following graduation, she aspires to attend law school to pursue her interest in studying civil rights law, free speech issues, and equal opportunity policy. Maddie enjoys swimming, running, reading, and catching up on CBS’ The Good Wife in her free time.


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