Multiple studies have shown that corporate diversity, no matter the industry, can bring in bigger profits and strengthen business processes.
But even though nonprofits are usually seen as the nicer, fuzzier, more politically correct versions of corporations, anyone reviewing nonprofit staff rosters can tell you that that doesn’t necessarily translate into a more diverse group of employees. Recent reports suggest that 82% of nonprofit employees are white and foundations—where the real money and power reside—are even paler.
Turns out, there are multiple barriers that prevent people of color and people from less privileged backgrounds from joining nonprofits. And yet, those exact workers would offer valuable insight and passion, particularly in organizations that work with people of similar demographics.
Consider this: Does your organization deal with big issues that have a big impact—like the environment, health, or democracy? How do you expect to do the work you want to do and reach the people you need to reach if your staff only represents a small band of society? The short answer is that you can’t.
If you are struggling to add more diversity to your organization, it’s incredibly important that you identify why—and figure out how to change that. Start by asking yourself these questions:
Why Aren’t You Diverse?
Take a close look at the way your organization currently operates, particularly when it comes to hiring. Why does it only attract a certain kind of people? Do hiring managers rely solely on an alumni pool that’s overwhelmingly made up of one race or background? Do they lean on your volunteer base—the very small group of people who have the financial means and time flexibility to volunteer—to eventually fill paid positions?
You can’t expect to find different people if you keep doing things the same way. Instead, branch out! Actively seek candidates of color and those with diverse types of backgrounds. Advertise your job listings with professional associations that represent different pools of talent, like the Association of Black Foundation Executives, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, or Hispanics in Philanthropy. If you’re hiring for entry-level positions, make sure to send your job announcements to historically black or Hispanic colleges and universities in your area.
What’s in it for Them?
Nonprofits constantly think about how to attract others to our cause—we plan social media campaigns, host events, and solicit money.
But we don’t usually take the time to consider why someone would—or wouldn’t—be attracted to the organization as an employee. Think about it: Does your organization appear welcoming to people who look or act differently? Is your nonprofit ready to appreciate different points of view—especially when they may conflict with yours?
To make sure you’re conveying the right message, think about how you draft your job listings and the content of your website (which is likely be the first place any potential applicant will go). For example, if your website indicates you’re looking for a “team player,” but photos show that the team is entirely white, that’s probably going to raise some flags with diverse candidates.
On the other hand, content that shows how you interact with your critics and try to learn from them is a positive indication that your organization has the maturity to handle diversity.
Also consider that people of other backgrounds are looking for career growth as much as any other employee—so think about if there are clear opportunities for those workers to move up the career ladder, or if it comes across that they’d simply be filling the position of token minority. If your organization hasn’t made a previous commitment to diversity or appears to have a responsibility or pay gap, applicants may approach you cautiously (or not at all). Amy Ruiz, who has worked with both nonprofits and for-profits, says “Nonprofits get so busy with programmatic goals that focus on the communities they serve, that internally, staff burn out or leave because they aren't recognized or rewarded for the hard work they do.”
So, let candidates know that you’re willing to build a diverse leadership pipeline and provide ample professional development. Explain it clearly in your job advertisements, and reference it in the “about us” section of your website. Your potential employees need to know that you see your success as being tied to theirs.
How Are You Going to Stick With This?
Increasing the diversity in your nonprofit workplace is really about changing your overall culture and how you intend to do your work. That’s not an easy task, but it’s worth it. Qiana Mickie, who has worked in nonprofits since 1998, says, “The best work experiences [I have had] are with supervisors who made it a priority to have a diverse staff. People are willing to work even harder when they feel they are valued, appreciated, and considered on par with someone else.”
To keep you and your organization honest as you dedicate yourself to diversity, it’s helpful to set some goals. If you have a small staff, however, making significant changes may be more difficult, so think beyond numbers. For example, you could create a commitment to work primarily with minority-owned businesses for your contracted services, like accounting or IT.
Talk to your funders about wanting to increase diversity, and they will not only provide tips and motivation, but they may also be able to provide seed funding for a program or new positions. Whatever you choose as your goals, make sure that they’re written down and that the entire board and staff are aware of your progress toward them.
When we’re taking on the big issues, we need all hands on deck. We need the creativity of people from a variety of backgrounds—those who are directly impacted by those big issues, as well as those who have connections to the halls of power. In the world of social change, we truly need each other.