Why Do Nonprofits Struggle with Diversity?


Go to the bottom of almost any job description on any website of any well-meaning social sector organization and you will see it: some sort of statement about diversity and how “everyone is welcome.”

However, just like diet pills that claim you’ll lose weight in your sleep in 10 days and keep it off, the statements don’t ring true. Still, they persist.

There is this idea that has taken root in the sector. If you say you believe in and are committed to diversity and you put a statement on your website, then these two steps make you a diversity champion.

Not true. And it’s also not enough to ask “where are all the professional fundraisers of color” or “why won’t they stay with our organizations” while simultaneously failing to ensure you have set up systems and developed a cultural ethos that values diversity and inclusion.

Now, before you throw down your phone … read on.

My daddy had this saying when I was growing up, “The road to hell was paved with good intentions.”

He would say this after I had said or done something that missed the mark. I would defend my actions by claiming “What I meant was …” or “I had good intentions …” His words stuck with me.

It’s not enough to mean well. You’ve got to also do the work.

Translation: Your impact > intent.

So how do leaders set the pace at their organizations — not just through a thoughtful diversity statement you can find on a website, but in the practices and processes that support equity and inclusion day to day too?

Here’s what I’ve learned as a practitioner over the last decade and half and as a Caribbean American cis black woman over the course of my entire life on why we struggle with diversity.  

Take A Look In The Mirror. No; really. Get your mobile phones out, whip out the camera option and put it on selfie mode. Like what you see? Good!

When thinking about diversifying your organization be intentional about finding professionals that don’t look anything like you. Often times, we pick people for our teams for what I call the “like me” syndrome. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) expert + ally, Christopher Conroy of Conroy Talent & Associates puts it like this, “The natural social tendency to use familiar social markers like race, alumni associations, and gender norms to build relationships in groups only produces positive outcomes for a narrow range of people — in a small number of circumstances — in today’s economy. That’s not good for anyone. Now more than ever, being able to build relationships across differences through shared values and principles yields the greatest outcomes for the largest number of people.”

Stop Hiding Your Hands (And Your Values). If you’re serious about attracting, hiring and retaining talented professionals of color, adding more women to your leadership teams, making real space for differently abled professionals and having an inclusive organizational culture, then your organizational values — and the actions that bring those values to life — have got to reflect what you believe and why you believe it.

Since we are always striving for better, having a plan that answers the question, “What are we prepared to do (and not do) to live these values as a collective and individually?” is the real work.

Keep in mind that it’s okay to not have it all figured out. It’s okay to be transparent about that. But it’s not okay to pretend like you’ve got it covered — or worse yet — that you are working on “it” when you haven’t personally identified why having a diverse and inclusive organization, culture, and team matters to you.

Elevate the Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace. I think very few people would claim (out loud) that there are no benefits to diversity in the workplace. An organization’s success and competitive advantage depends upon its ability to embrace diversity and realize the benefits.

When organizations actively assess their handling of workplace diversity issues, develop and implement diversity plans, there is a multiplying effect of benefits. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the numbers. According to a recent study by McKinsey & Co., racially diverse teams outperform non-diverse ones by 35%.

That means if you want to raise more money, invite more donors into your donor family or get anything that involves results done; you will do more (and better) with diverse teams. How about this? Teams where men and women are equal earn 41% more in revenue. Wondering why your fundraising goals haven’t budged in years? It might not be because your donors aren’t interested.

And this one – 57% of employees think their companies should be more diverse. If that doesn’t make you get up and go get a taskforce together; I don’t know what will. What do these numbers means? You have to have know the benefits of diversity and then actually do something to activate them.

The Challenges Feel Bigger Than The Rewards. Challenges. We all have them. Sometimes they make me run in the other direction because I don’t want to face the climb up the mountain that the particular challenge represents. I’d rather eat my favorite – molten chocolate cake. But face it I must! It’s the same with our struggle with diversity, equity and inclusion (and yes I said our… I struggle too but that’s another article). Things like different communication styles and ineffective communication, resistance to change, and implicit bias blocks us from acting on initiatives when we are in the thick of moving from theory to implementation.

Fake Implementation Wins Over Real Implementation. One more time: Nothing changes without implementation! We suffer from an inability (or stubbornness) to do it well. No one is immune – not organizational leadership, managers or team members – even when we want the results!

Building a customized strategy that can be broken out into actionable pieces and implemented by individuals who feel equipped to make these changes can be tough. Sometimes it’s just easier to “kind of” implement (read: develop unenforceable policies, host retreats that leave you feeling empty, deferring to old “good enough” practices that continue to creep in) rather than figure out how to do it well.

Now, because I don’t like to tell you the WHAT without the WHY or the HOW, in the next installment we will dig into what organizations can do to to take steps toward addressing some of these challenges. We will take a close look at solutions like transparent assessment, comprehensive development, and inclusive implementation.  

In the meantime, what are some other ways you think that organizations struggle with diversity?

Kishshana Palmer
Kishshana Palmer is a national speaker, trainer, and coach with a 16 year background in fundraising, marketing, and talent management. She works with career professionals and entrepreneurs to help them grow their skills, their teams and their revenue. Kishshana is an adjunct professor at Baruch College and Long Island University, Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), a BoardSource Certified Governance Trainer (CGT) and an AFP Master Trainer. When an organization wants to grow, find and retain people on their team, raise money, and more she is the philanthropic fairy godmother they have on speed dial. Her work isn’t limited to organizations, she also coaches women entrepreneurs. Kishshana is a NYC girl and mother of one wonderful pre-teen daughter. In her spare time she’s discovering new music, reading, serving her community and finding new fabulous clothes to fill up her wardrobe.
Kishshana Palmer
Kishshana Palmer

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By | 2018-03-06T15:50:01+00:00 March 7th, 2018|Nonprofit Sector, Diversity and Inclusion|

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