Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion matters.

The 2020 George Floyd protests across the country ignited a multitude of things—not the least of which being renewed attention to combating the harmful inequities harbored and perpetuated by institutions across our country. Structures of discrimination on the bases of race, gender, ability, age, and sexual identity (among others) have existed for a long time in United States history, leaving no organization untouched. It is up to the leaders of those organizations to take action against that discrimination in order for it to lose power.

Nonprofits, despite their charitable causes, are no exception. According to the Urban Institute, 79% of nonprofit board chairs and executive directors are non-Latinx white, a vast contrast to the racial makeup of the United States. Additionally, white-run nonprofit organizations (wherein boards and executive leadership are more than three-fourths white) tend to have bigger budgets than those run by people of color. On a more personal level, according to a 2019 Race to Lead study, 49% of people of color in the nonprofit field have found their race to be a barrier to professional advancement, with 67% of white respondents finding their race to be an advantage. White nonprofit workers are also more likely than their poc counterparts to receive extra income, such as bonuses or cost of living increases.

Nonprofit organizations must do the work to combat structural inequality within their ranks, implementing practices in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) to create a welcoming and progressive environment. As it should, the bar on social awareness is being raised for everyone. 65% of Point of Light respondents believe companies should be performing concrete actions toward social issues. Households are increasingly donating to racial or social justice initiatives, with Classy’s 2021 report additionally finding that 48% of respondents are likely to donate to organizations that practice DEI. To work toward the advancement of everyone, and to help the building of a brighter future, nonprofits need to prioritize DEI.

How to get started with DEI at your nonprofit:

  • Explain why DEI matters. Rally support around the implementation of DEI practices. Connect it to your organization’s mission and vision, and try multiple ways to convince people of its necessity. On the practical end, more diverse organizations have stronger business outcomes, with a higher range of perspectives. Most if not all nonprofits are focused on a cause that strives to make the world a more just, equitable, compassionate, or empathetic place. That is the basis of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion ethic. 
  • Build a team. DEI work cannot be done alone. Find a group within your organization (or even include your whole organization, if it is small) to begin planning your initiative. Ensure that the team is diverse in multiple ways itself, but do not put the onus of the work on those diverse members of the team. Assign roles, and get to planning.
  • Create a shared understanding and framework for your initiative. It is important to establish definitions of diversity, equity, and inclusion as groundwork to avoid misunderstandings or confusion. Additionally, it is necessary to explain structural inequalities and inequities to lay the foundation for understanding. It will add knowledge around your initiative’s “why”, and it will help your team build a vision. Awake to Woke to Work offers a glossary to get you started. 
  • Have your leadership recognize the importance of DEI. Various studies and experts agree that it is important to have an organization’s leadership endorse DEI, both verbally and in action. Having a leader who truly believes in it encourages lower-level staff to do the same. Make sure that your organization’s leader expresses their commitment to DEI.
  • Take a cultural audit. You cannot change the culture of your organization without knowing it first. A cultural audit, according to Beasley in Beyond Diversity, typically looks at: the demographic composition of an organization; the attitudes its employees have surrounding DEI; the promotion, hiring, and retention rates across different demographic groups; employee knowledge or use of organizational resources; and a review of employee complaints. Your first cultural audit can provide a baseline for your organization to track progress.
  • Establish metrics. Related to the cultural audit, you will want to have quantifiable and easy-to-track metrics that allow you to see whether you are making progress in certain areas. For a long and detailed list of possible metrics in a DEI initiative, check out this article from Include-Empower.com.
  • Know that DEI work is always ongoing. Change will not happen overnight, especially when it comes to the cultural change of an organization. DEI work needs to be integrated into your organization permanently, this means implementing a regular cadence into your initiatives including goals, check-ins, project owners, and next steps. Creating and maintaining a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace requires sustained effort over time. You will constantly need to look at metrics and adjust your plans accordingly. It is hard work, but it is more than worth it.

To further help you on your journey, here is a list of helpful resources: