skip to Main Content
Creating Inclusion In Nonprofit Organizations

Creating Inclusion in Nonprofit Organizations

In a previous entry, this blog noted that women, people of color, and other members of marginalized groups are grossly underrepresented in the nonprofit sector.  While this situation is troubling, it is not hopeless.  This entry will provide nonprofit leaders with suggestions for creating and improving inclusion in nonprofit organizations.

Why Inclusion in Nonprofit Organizations Matters

As mentioned above, the nonprofit sector struggles to hire women, people of color, and other employees with diverse lived experiences.

According to recent data, though women are 75 percent of nonprofit employees and staff, they comprise just 45 percent of nonprofit leaders. Nonprofit boards and leadership often exclude people of color.  Though the lack of diversity in the nonprofit workplace is a serious issue, it can be addressed with a sincere and consistent commitment to inclusion.

While a commitment to inclusion is key, a recent survey by CommonGood Careers found that many nonprofits have a serious disconnect between their ideals and their realities.  In the survey, nearly 90 percent of nonprofit employees said that their organizations claim to value diversity.  However, over 70 percent of those same employees said that their nonprofit was not doing enough to create a diverse and inclusive environment.  While employees of all races felt that nonprofits needed to do more to practice what they preach, employees of color were far more likely than white employees to hold that view.   These survey results show that for inclusion in nonprofit organizations to succeed, organizations must put their values into action.

Moreover, the CommonGood report also found that the absence of diversity affected the morale of employees of color.   Employees of color reported feeling like “tokens,” which caused them to feel alienated.  These feelings of alienation caused them to be more likely to leave.  Ironically, their absence makes it more difficult to recruit more employees of color.  All these concerns should compel nonprofits to make inclusion a priority.

Issues with Inclusion in Nonprofit Organizations

An earlier post explained that inclusion requires an organization to create a work environment where people of different backgrounds, beliefs, and lived experiences feel accepted and appreciated.  However, many nonprofits fail to realize that some of their policies and initiatives leave members of marginalized groups out in the cold.

A survey by the Race to Lead initiative found that nonprofit employees of color had education, experience, and ambitions similar to white employees, yet they were not promoted at the same rates.  The report identified several barriers for employees of color, including the pressure to represent an entire race, lack of mentoring, and smaller professional networks.  In short, for the nonprofit workforce to become more diverse, nonprofit leaders must examine their internal culture, practices, and policies to identify internal and external barriers faced by employees from marginalized groups.

What Inclusion in Nonprofit Organizations Looks Like

Inclusivity is a process. It begins with commitment from the top, is reinforced through culturally competent leaders and managers, and is sustained through systems.  Here are a few steps nonprofits can take to create a workplace that will attract and retain employees from all walks of life.

Create an Inclusion Committee.  For any initiative to succeed, someone must take the lead. While someone may take key responsibility for the efforts, the committee approach allows leaders to receive input from employees and stakeholders from all backgrounds. The committee should have a clear charge, demonstrate impact on strategic goals, and build the overall capacity of the organization.

Set Clear Goals and Timelines.  No nonprofit would begin the year without a clear fundraising goal.  Similarly, no nonprofit would set a fundraising goal without it being tied to a date.  Nonprofit leaders should treat inclusion the same as other goals.  They should create goals, timelines, metrics for tracking progress.  This process creates accountability, and makes it clear to people at every level of the organization how they should contribute the inclusion goals.  It also sends a clear message that that inclusion matters just as much as other priorities.

Make Inclusion a Priority.  Speaking of priorities, the Race to Lead survey found that many nonprofit employees applaud their nonprofit’s commitment to diversity.  However, the majority of those surveyed felt that leaders often let diversity and inclusion initiatives wither on the vine.  The employees reported that inclusion efforts were touted, but not funded.   Or, if they were funded, they were funded at embarrassingly low levels.  If inclusion is a priority, it must be supported – and funded – as such.

Get Help if You Need it.  At times, an organization’s inclusion efforts may seem to stall.  If this happens, you may need additional help.  Today, more nonprofits are creating permanent EDI positions.  Nonprofits that cannot afford a new employee or that simply want a fresh pair of eyes may hire outside consultants.  Either way, getting expert assistance not only shows employees and others that your organization takes inclusion seriously, it also gives you valuable feedback and assistance in navigating an area that can be challenging.

Creating inclusion in nonprofit organizations can be demanding, but inclusion’s many rewards outweigh any difficulties.  Let us know if your nonprofit wants support for starting or sustaining your inclusion efforts. Enrolling in The Equity Toolkit is a great first step.  This progressive set of online courses will give nonprofit leaders the tools they need to be effective in an increasingly diverse world.

DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is an invited speaker, equity, diversity and inclusion strategy consultant and author with more than twenty years of experience working with people from around the world to on personal effectiveness and building workforce capacity.

Back To Top