Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.
Illustration by Yuxin Qin
This past year’s social justice movement has caused many organizations to take a leap and highlight their key values for society to take notice of and support. Statements of unity, anti-racism, and DEI commitments have been established by nonprofits of all subsectors and have been posted on websites, social media, and through the mainstream press. However, according to the National Council of Nonprofits, values written on a page are not authentic until an organization’s actions demonstrate them. This act of solidarity is a starting point, but not valid unless the organization takes intentional actions to progress their mission to commit to DEI.
The concepts of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are not new, but integrating DEI into organizations can be daunting, especially when contemplating where and how to start. A nonprofit has many facets of the organization to consider when starting DEI work, including the board, staffing, programs, and how it connects to the greater community. An organization should hope to accomplish how it can lead with their values, understand and agree on key terminology, and build a process with authenticity at the core. This will lead to a starting point that will create DEI strategies to ensure impact.
Where to start? These five actions will get your nonprofit started, or help to transition into DEI work.
1. Build your DEI task force. Ensure that all levels of the organization are involved, including board members, staff, volunteers, and community members. While not all stakeholders can participate in the task force meetings, ensure that reports and goals will be shared throughout. The work that is being accomplished by the task force and other stakeholders needs to be thought of as part of their job, not peripheral assignments.
2. Engage with a DEI professional. This will help shape your conversations, strategies, and goals. Working with a professional will help facilitate discussions, allow everyone to participate in the dialogue, and shape a process to create a plan of action. Remember, working with a consultant or a facilitator will require resources, which may be limited. Still, the investment will help push through critical and possibly challenging conversations with the board, staff, and other stakeholders.
3. Wrestle with terminology and ideologies. What do diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to your organization? Is the organization comfortable discussing other terms like racial equity, implicit bias, and microaggressions? What lens will the organization use in its DEI work (will it be general, focus on a specific kind of diversity, etc.)? Understanding and adopting terms, ideas, and beliefs as an organization puts everyone on the same page.
4. Reflect on past efforts. A starting point is reviewing the organization’s solidarity statement to discuss what those words mean and how they align with your values. Suppose the organization does not have a statement. In that case, this might be the time to converse about what should be included if the organization created one today that lines up with the organization's beliefs, intentions, and values.
5. Create a plan of action. Now that the organization has selected a task force, engaged with a consultant/facilitator, had discussions about terms and ideologies, and reflected on past efforts, it’s time to create an action plan. It can be a comprehensive DEI plan that looks at the entire organization or focuses on a specific area to keep in line with resources and the scope. No matter the size and scale, it’s a start and the journey to DEI work is well on its way.
To start an action plan, Vernetta Walker’s DEI Road Map serves as a guide. Walker shares this example in an article in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. This example may not be a one-size-fits-all tool, but the Road Map includes vision, assessment, education, implementation and integration, and evaluation strategies.
The world is ever-changing and people are looking to hold the private and public sectors accountable for their actions. The nonprofit sector is not removed from the responsibility of helping to create a just society. DEI work can be difficult for a nonprofit, but it should not overwhelm an organization to the point of doing nothing. The information and recommendations in this post should not oversimplify DEI work. Still, it makes it less intimidating by bringing the entire organization into the transition and ensures that the organization awaits a new approach to solidifying their mission.
Mitch Menchaca is a graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University. He has spent the past 20 years in the arts and culture and philanthropy sectors with positions on the local, state and national levels. Menchaca was appointed as the executive director for the City of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture in 2018. He is on the advisory board for SMU DataArts (formerly the Cultural Data Project), is a former board member and now serves on the executive advisory council for Latinos Lead, and is the governor-appointed art and culture chair for the Arizona Mexico Commission. Mitch studied theater at Central Arizona College, earned a Bachelor of Liberal Studies at Arizona State University, and completed a festival and event management certificate at the University of Minnesota.