12 Things White Non-Profit Leaders Can Do For More Diversity (Video and Infographic)

12 Things White Non-Profit Leaders Can Do For More Diversity (Video and Infographic)

12 Things White Leaders Can Do Now for More Diversity

12 Things White Leaders Can Do Now for More Diversity

Do you want your organization to be more diverse?

Too often, nonprofit organizations (especially white-led) take an approach to diversity that is a tad lazy, sloppy, uninformed, filled with bureaucracy, and even inauthentic. Don’t get me wrong, it may be well-intentioned, but it’s not working.

Yes, building a diverse organization can be hard, but stop spinning your wheels in groupthink. Expand your thinking and your options with this checklist. People of Color (POC)-led organizations can also use this list to diversify beyond race and ethnicity (including geography, ability, skill-set, and other demographics). It’s easy to lament on how hard it is, but it’s also easy to start moving in the right direction.


I am a white man who has been working for a long time to build diverse boards and staff/consultant teams. Have I been perfect? No. Have some efforts been poorly thought out and poorly executed? Sure. But I keep trying because it matters. Overall, with time, patience, and true commitment it gets easier. It can be hard, especially if the organization you are starting with is overwhelmingly white. But it can be addressed.

Diversity isn’t something you push for because it’s politically correct or expected of you.

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Diversity should be a moral and strategic goal. Diversity gives you the competitive advantage to win the fights ahead and to achieve your mission. Diversity is as important as fundraising and program metrics, period. Not trying to diversify shows a lack of integrity and is foolish given how our country is changing. Even if you are in rural Oklahoma, you can probably do a better job of inclusion than you currently are. It’s no longer OK to just look around at your current circumstances and throw your hands up.

So, here are some steps you can take to diversify your organization.

1) First, you need to make a conscious decision that diversity is a priority. It must be in your strategic plan, reflected in your budget, And it should be part of the agenda for staff and board meetings, not just lip service.

2) Revisit your non-discrimination policy. Does it use the bare-minimum language to comply with the law or is it a full-throated message that bias, bigotry, and chauvinism will not creep into the workplace? Really think about this and consult diversity experts about how to do better.

3) Create a diversity policy that boldly declares your dramatic commitment to equity across race, ability, ethnicity, religion, sexual and gender orientation, and more. Post it on your website. Point people toward it in your electronic signatures. In short, brag about it. Then, live it. A diversity policy or “equity policy” is much broader than employment discrimination.

4) Make a commitment to spend organizational dollars that are consistent with your values. For example, commit to spending 30% or even 50% of all consultant/vendor dollars on women and POC owned businesses. Be bold about the fact that you do this. Model this for other organizations.

5) If you have a decision-making process, ensure that diversity is one of the criteria. Whenever the staff or board vote on things, ask about the racial or gender impact of this decision and this process. The grants you pursue, the creation of new programs, and even the criteria you use for making decisions should be evaluated.

6) Pay your interpreters. It is tempting to ask interpreters or translators to donate their services, but don’t do that. Pay them. It shows a commitment to valuing that work.

7) Hang out with different people. Really! We are creatures of comfort and most of us hang out with people who are just like ourselves. Professionally, you must disrupt this pattern. Find out what events, organizations, and other opportunities you should engage with in order to meet the populations you hope will join your organization.

8) When you post job and internship opportunities, don’t just share them on the same sites as other organizations. Make a concerted effort to reach out to POC and LGBT trade associations, chambers of commerce, and media and ask them to share the job postings. The best way to build a diverse organization is to build a diverse pool to choose from.

9) Many organizations mention that they want diverse applicants to apply…at the end of the job posting. How about stating this at the very top? Declare your commitment to building a powerful and diverse organization before you even list the job responsibilities. If diversity is always a disclaimer or an asterisk at the end, it sends a message that it is an afterthought.

10) The executive director and the board chair must have a dedicated conversation (and hopefully a recurring conversation) about race, gender, and other forms of diversity. It should be as important of a check-in as the finances are. The board chair and the executive director should be a united front about all the items in this list and communicate these things at board and staff meetings with intentionality. If it feels like you are reading through a script instead of a passionate declaration of your values, it will be hollow. For example, the executive director should be crystal clear about what behavior is, and is not, acceptable at work. List the very behaviors that are not OK (sexual banter, bullying, implicit bias, etc.).

11) Too often, white-led organizations use a common excuse for not advancing POC candidates to the board or staff. They say “We need qualified people, and I won’t put diversity over quality.” You must interrupt this behavior and attitude! If there is an excellent candidate for your board who is Latino or Asian-Pacific Islander, with an amazing Rolodex, and are well-respected but have little fundraising experience, don’t discard them. Get them qualified. Train them on fundraising. You train your staff on the new software you bought, why not train your board for governance?

And while you are at it, challenge your concept of what “qualified” is. If tiny infractions from job applicants are deal breakers for you, you might want to re-evaluate your commitment to diversity. White people make mistakes in the interview process all the time and those mistakes are looked over quickly. And we all know white candidates and current employees make mistakes all the time that don’t invalidate their candidacy for the job.

12) Implicit bias training is something every organization should embrace. Once workers and board members realize the subtle (and not so subtle) signals being sent to minorities in the workplace, they can make changes. If you don’t have a budget for training, find great content online and share it with your team.

I’d love to hear your ideas for how non-profit leaders can make even more change in their organizations. Contact me at Sean@MindTheGapConsulting.org


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