Illustration by Yuxin Qin
Many nonprofit organizations are focusing on how to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) principals in their work to better serve their communities. Although there is no single response that can lead to racial justice and racial equity in our society, nonprofits play an important role in creating change, accessing resources, and attaining opportunities. Additionally, studies show that organizational effectiveness increases with a more diverse workforce, and culturally relevant organizations may increase staff retention. DEI strategies are important for authentically realizing the organization’s mission and may result in more funding opportunities.
Studies suggest that communities of color are overlooked as potential partners, donors, and stakeholders. Many nonprofits focus on white, wealthy, and well-connected donors, instead of partnering with the community the organization aims to serve. This means the communities that nonprofits intend to serve are often left out of important decisions, and nonprofits may be missing an opportunity to bring in new partners.
Some organizations have utilized community partnerships such as co-production and community-centric funding to engage communities they serve in their organizational processes. An example of collaborative efforts for programming and shared funding is an organization that works to address homelessness partnering with neighborhood residents for a solution. Another example is an environmental education nonprofit encouraging their donors to fund partner organizations once the organization has met its financial needs.
It is critical that nonprofits engage in this work in an authentic way that represents their constituents’ needs and are careful to avoid performative actions. One way that nonprofits can hold their DEI work accountable is to include the board in this work. This may include workshops for board and Leadership teams, as well as expanding the practices for board recruitment and participation. Nonprofits may consider reporting on DEI strategies in their annual reports, as well as implementing DEI and cultural relevance practices into recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and staff training. Nonprofits may consider hiring a consultant that specializes in DEI practices for the workplace. One study found that while some trainings have room for improvement, the organizations that engaged in this work saw results in business outcomes.
Nonprofits that engage with communities of color are likely to build new partnerships and realize more funding opportunities. This may be due to bringing in untapped donors and engaging new community members in the organization’s mission. Expanding the nonprofit’s network of stakeholders will ensure that the community’s needs are prioritized, and stakeholders’ goals of sustainable funding practices are met. Some studies encourage nonprofit organizations in the environmental sector to reveal demographic data to show their intentions to include DEI work. A study noted, “for most of the nineteenth century, the founders and members of environmental organizations were wealthy, white, and male”. Some organizations that depend on government funding, like grants, tend to limit the diversity of board members. This is due to a focus on socially connected elites with networks of professionals that lend the organization to success in grant writing. This study warns that opportunities could be missed for community members to participate as a board member if they are “crowded out.”
This research suggests that nonprofits that authentically engage in diversity and inclusion training, cultural relevance, and re-evaluate organization operations to be more inclusive will be more likely to succeed in achieving their mission, have more fulfilled and engaged staff, and may attract more diverse partners and stakeholders.
Anand, R. & Winters, M. F. (2008). A Retrospective View of Corporate Diversity Training from 1964 to the Present. Academy of Management Learning & Education
Guo, C. (2007). When Government Becomes the Principal Philanthropist: The Effects of Public Funding on Patterns of Nonprofit Governance. Public Administration Review.
Taylor, P. & McCoy. (2019). Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the Salience of Publicly Disclosing Demographic Data in American Environmental Nonprofits. Sustainability (Basel, Switzerland).
Jackelyn Latham is a 2021 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. As an undergraduate, she focused on Environmental Studies at the University of Michigan, and after completing her undergraduate degree, she worked in outdoor education. She currently works as a grant coordinator for an open space authority in California.