Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Matter for Nonprofits

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The National Council of Nonprofits stands with others for equity and justice and in denouncing racism, intolerance, and exclusion. Yet taking a stand is not enough. We, along with many other charitable nonprofits, have been on a path of exploration to identify how to build the core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion into all our nonprofit’s operations, as well as model those values as we advance our mission.

We believe that embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion as organizational values is a way to intentionally make space for positive outcomes to flourish, whether in direct services or in the nonprofit capacity building or public policy spheres. We urge each nonprofit to articulate its own values and be guided by them. Let’s use our staff meetings and board meetings to examine our core values. How will our nonprofits apply those values in their daily operations?

The National Council of Nonprofits is asking these questions and will continue to highlight resources, such as those below, that nonprofits can use to examine internal biases and adopt practices that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in their work, in their employment practices, in their board rooms, and in their communications. We're starting with honest internal dialogue that encourages our staff and board members to reflect, listen to each other, and learn from one another's experiences. We’re also engaged in a dialogue with state networks of nonprofits to explore how our members can best advance this work throughout the sector. We have learned from other nonprofits how they are incorporating these values while advancing their missions, and we're eager to share.

For some organizations, simply doing what is right may be enough to spur action. Others may be moved by data showing that diversity can boost the quality of decision-making and that a diverse workplace can encourage people to be “more creative, more diligent, and harder-working.” Studies have also shown that a more diverse staff can foster enhanced innovation. And when board members, employees, donors, and others who shape the values and activities of a nonprofit come from a wide array of backgrounds, they bring unique perspectives that influence how the nonprofit approaches its mission in more inclusive and innovative ways.

At the National Council of Nonprofits, we have been on an intentional journey to assess how our organization can champion diversity, equity, and inclusion as values for our sector. On this page, we’ve curated resources that we have found helpful in this work for ourselves as individuals, for our organization, and for our network.

We hope the following practice pointers, questions to consider, and resources will offer inspiration and guidance about how to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion as fundamental values – and how to make sure these values are reflected in the operations and activities of your nonprofit.

Practice Pointers

  • Many organizations find that it’s helpful to begin with an exploration of terms and definitions. This can help spark deep conversations about how we individually interpret and experience discrimination of whatever nature. This Social Justice Glossary from the YWCA and this glossary from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation offer common vocabularies for difficult conversations.
  • Understanding your own and your team’s implicit/unconscious biases is key to opening doors to equity. Project Implicit offers a tool to test your implicit associations about race, gender, sexual orientation, and other identities.
  • As one starting point, you may find the Statement of Cultural Equity adopted by Americans for the Arts to be of interest. Remember, though, that values written on a page are not authentic until they are demonstrated by your organization’s actions.
  • As explained in this article, 6 Steps for Building an Inclusive Workplace, a diverse team is only part of what makes a more equitable workplace. Making sure that different voices are heard, that people feel respected and valued, and that they are in environments where they can do their best work, is where inclusion comes in. Fostering an inclusive workplace can be modeled by board members and senior team leaders by reaching out to others on staff for intentional conversations about ways the nonprofit could be more inclusive in all its operations. Other strategies that may be useful include consciously celebrating employee differences, assigning newer employees “buddies,” and making sure there is a mechanism for employees and volunteers to provide feedback.
  • There are many skilled practitioners and consultants in the sector that can assist your nonprofit in navigating the internal work to create more awareness about and take action on diversity, inclusion, and equity. See below under “Resources” and “Practitioners” to find help, both no- or low-cost and paid.
  • Adopting a separate “DE&I policy” may send an unintended signal that your organization does not consider DE&I as integral to all its operations and/or needs a policy to remind everyone how important they are. What other ways can your nonprofit ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are woven into all strategic decisions and are operational priorities? How does your organization not only articulate, but also demonstrate its values? Michele Berger of NEO Law Group identifies ways to embed aspirational ideas into the organization’s Bylaws and other institutional structures: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Nonprofit Bylaws (Nonprofit Law Blog).

Questions to Consider when Creating a DE&I Action Plan for Your Nonprofit

  • How transparent does your organization wish to be about the steps it is taking to become more diverse and encourage inclusive practices? How does your organization communicate its values to the public, to paid staff, and to volunteers?
  • Are organizational values published on the nonprofit’s website or otherwise shared publicly? Does it make sense for your DE&I commitments to be inward-facing, outward-facing, or a combination of both?
  • Does your nonprofit create opportunities to listen to the voices directly from community, grassroots, or young leaders in low-income, under-served and/or marginalized populations within its community?
  • How can your nonprofit open its board recruitment and staff hiring pipeline to talented candidates from among underrepresented groups?
  • Is the organization’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity part of the orientation message for new board members and incorporated into onboarding new teammates and volunteers?
  • Does your organization expect its collaborative and community partners to uphold its own values? 
  • How will your nonprofit assess the progress you are making towards your goals of diversity, inclusion, and equity?  What will success look like? Feel like?

Resources for Your Nonprofit’s Learning Journey

Resources for Nonprofit Employers: Building Values into Actions

Practitioners with Whom We Have Worked Directly – and Learned Much

Diversity on Boards of Directors

For Grantmakers

Find Your State Association of Nonprofits

Find Your State Association of Nonprofits

Connect with local resources and expertise

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