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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Diversity, equity and inclusion strategies for nonprofits

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The intersection between diversity, equity, and inclusion (D.E.I.) exists to ensure nonprofit organizations value different perspectives and backgrounds, provide every employee with equitable access to opportunity and learning, and create spaces where all voices are heard. An organization must prioritize all three issues, otherwise, they risk completely missing the mark. Enacting intentional D.E.I. strategies in the nonprofit workplace is essential to maintaining the organization's mission, cultivating high performance from staff, and creating sustainable funding and programming.

Other benefits of intentional D.E.I. work include:

  • Expanding the organization's reach.
  • Fostering a healthier work culture.
  • Mirroring the community it serves.

Organizations that deliberately implement D.E.I. policies attract more creative and innovative employees who combine their unique knowledge, skills, and experiences to create a welcoming work environment and improve the organization's impact. Failure to prioritize diversity in the workplace may lead to segregated groups, communication strains, and the promotion of negative stereotypes, which could create a hostile work environment.

Responsibility for this rests on the leadership. The leadership of the nonprofit set the tone of the organization. If the executive team and board of directors fail to acknowledge that implicit bias and the dynamics of oppression may exist within the organization and commit to making a change, even the best, well-meaning efforts will collapse. Moreover, if D.E.I. strategies are not weaved into the organization's framework, a disconnect between the accomplishments of the organization's goals and the relationship with the community could appear. Consequently, the great work completed by the nonprofit for the community might seem insecure or performative.

To intentionally implement diversity and inclusion efforts to achieve equity, here are six strategies to use.

Develop a common language around diversity, equity, and inclusion

 Work with a small team of key staff, board members, and stakeholders to determine what this looks like for the organization's mission and strategic plan. Rely on the experts and bring in consultants to help guide conversations and create spaces for challenging conversations and reflection.

Do not rely solely on diversity training

Reframe diversity training as an opportunity to enhance organizational effectiveness. Examine policies from an equity lens and enact policies that encompass the organization's D.E.I. values. Create meaningful opportunities with and among diverse individuals through discussion prompts and case studies. This approach will help staff members reflect on their reactions to certain situations to learn and grow. Immerse the organization in the community and prioritize uncharted areas to reach marginalized groups. These interactions will help break down stereotypes and foster a greater understanding of difference. 

Create affinity groups

Affinity groups allow marginalized groups to gather in a safe space. Providing safe space is the responsibility of those committed to equity. If there is not enough organizational capacity to host internal affinity groups, provide opportunities for participation in external affinity groups. Taking this step could mean creating a line item in the budget that allows the organization to cover any cost associated with participation in these groups. However, it is essential to remember equity. Every single employee should have the opportunity to participate in an affinity group. If this is not possible, focus on team-building opportunities and create a safe space for all employees within the organization.

Form committees and create staff positions that focus on D.E.I work

 Create an environment where this can be successful by modeling the behavior from the top down and holding everyone accountable. Avoid tokenism and rely on the experts, but do not expect marginalized individuals to do all the work. The responsibility cannot fall on one person. It is an organization-wide effort. Ensure that the individuals tasked with this work know the limitations of their power and have a clear line of communication with leadership. Leadership should back up all decisions made by this individual.

Increase representation in management

This strategy includes the board of directors. Research and implement managerial procedures around inclusion. Create safe spaces where the majority group intentionally consists of the minority group in decision making, valuing their contributions, and honoring diversity in thinking and individual uniqueness. Again, consult the experts in the field. Leadership should also acknowledge that implicit bias and the dynamics of oppression may exist within the organization and make a commitment to foster change.

Audit all internal policies, procedures, and programs to ensure that diversity, inclusion, and equity are interwoven in all organizational structures 

Determine if hiring diverse talent is a priority, and if it is not, make it one. Ensure that minority individuals are included in all opportunities afforded to staff, including a shot at fair pay, career advancement, professional development, and other available options. Work with the community to create or revise programs to ensure that services and resources are appropriate for and open to all.

Vivian Baylor is 2022 graduate of the Masters of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University and a member of the Nu Lambda Mu Nonprofit Honor Society.Vivian graduated from West Virginia University in 2015 with a BA in psychology and a minor in sociology. Now, she is the AmeriCorps Program Manager at Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic. The organization’s mission focuses on fostering civic and community engagement at nonprofits and institutions of higher education throughout Maryland, D.C, and Delaware. Vivian is a dog mom and enjoys spending time outside, listening to music, reading, spending time with family and friends, traveling, and learning new skills.

Learn more with these trainings

Effective, motivated boards are critical to a nonprofit organization’s ability to develop its capacity and achieve its mission. Board Governance Training consists of a series of topics that break down the best practices and responsibilities of an effective governing body. It's available in-person, virtually or hybrid, depending on your organization and needs.

The Optimizing Human Resource Strategies in Nonprofits certificate is a certification of distinction for individuals seeking knowledge and skills in nonprofit human resources, volunteer management, change management and conflict resolution.

Illustration by Lillian Finley, ASU Lodestar Center.

Vivan Baylor


ASU Lodestar Center Blog