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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

What are Effective Strategies Nonprofit Organizations Use to Improve Diversity and Inclusion?

The 2012 State of the Work Report shows that “people of color make up 37 percent of program offices at foundations…21 percent of U.S. managerial/professional workforce, but only 10-17 percent of CEO and board leadership at foundations” (Ryan, 2012, p. 5). How, then, shall one convince rigid institutions to prioritize diversity and inclusion? One example of a strategy is apparent in the story of Gallaudet University, a college for the deaf (Ryan, 2012, p. 3). In 1988, the chairman hired a hearing individual as board president. Students protested: Gallaudet is an institution that aims to empower deaf students, but had never allowed a deaf individual to ascend to its highest ranks. This was contradictory and limiting. Eventually, their protest worked and a deaf candidate was hired. Another strategy this report suggests is to help the organization recognize the cost of remaining at the status quo. How will staying singular in its approach to staffing damage a nonprofit organization’s reputation? A nonprofit not only needs to reflect its community through  staffing, but  genuinely hear and act upon  diverse voices. 

How can nonprofits successfully integrate a country’s diverse workforce? In a recent study, researchers found that “a board that has greater gender diversity has more effective governance practices and is more likely to have policies and practices related to diversity” (Buse, Bernstein, Bilimoria, 2014, p. 187). The same study found that an increase in racial diversity, when coupled with diversity policies, practices and inclusion behaviors, affected governance practices positively. 

The authors also concluded that boards with racial and gender diversity are more successful in maintaining effective governance practices (Buse, 2014). It is clear that when diversity is managed effectively, it yields positive results for organizations. The authors recommend that nonprofits implement gender and racial diversity along with strong diversity policies and practices in order to create an environment of well-being. This leads to effective board governance and an overall healthier organization. 

In “Inclusive Leadership and Employee Well-Being”,  research showed that “inclusive leadership, characterized by leaders’ openness, accessibility, and availability” helps to achieve “employee well-being and innovative behavior” (Choi, Tran, Kang, 2016, p. 14). This study was conducted with workers in Vietnam, and it shows that even in other cultures, inclusion is a healthy practice for organizations. However, what does inclusion look like? In “Diversity Perspectives and Minority Nonprofit Board Member Inclusion”, the authors discuss three key steps to creating inclusion as well as diversity: discrimination-and-fairness, access-and-legitimacy, and integration-and-learning (Bernstein, Bilimoria, 2013). The results of this were employees’ increased affinity to the organization.

With this research in mind, it can be concluded that diversity and inclusion leads to effective board governance, innovative employees, employee well-being and organizational affinity in nonprofits. The nonprofit sector can, therefore, benefit from implementing both diversity and inclusion practices. Effective strategies include incorporating diversity policy and practices in both the board and organization, establishing rules against discrimination, providing access to resources and integrating employees through learning. Putting these practices in place helps nonprofit organizations become more successful at reaching their mission.  


Bernstein, R.S., Bilimoria, D. (2013). Diversity perspectives and minority nonprofit board member inclusion. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal, Vol. 32 Issue: 7, pp. 636-653,

Buse, K., Sessler, B., Bilimoria, D. (2014). The Influence of Board Diversity, Board Diversity Policies and Practices, and Board Inclusion Behaviors on Nonprofit Governance Practices. Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. 

Foley, C. (2017, October 16). Personal interview.

Guillaume, Y., Dawson, J., Otaye-Ebede, L., Woods, S., West, M., (2015). Harnessing demographic differences in organizations: What moderates the effects of workplace diversity? Journal of Organizational Behavior, 38, 276–303. Wiley Online Library ( DOI: 10.1002/job.2040

Rohd, M. (2017, October 5). Personal interview.

Ryan, William P. (2012). Diversity and Inclusion in the Foundation Boardroom: Voices of Diverse Trustees. Council of Michigan Foundations.

Trower, C. A. (2012). The Practitioner's Guide to Governance as Leadership: Building High-Performing Nonprofit Boards. Retrieved from

Weisinger, Judith. (2005). “Understanding the Meaning of Diversity in a Nonprofit Organization.” New Mexico State University. 

Weisinger, J., Borges-Méndez, R., Milofsky, C. (2016). “Diversity in the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector,” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Vol. 45(1S) 3S–27S, Sage Publications. 


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