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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Best practices for hiring and retaining a diverse staff

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Recruiting and retaining nonprofit staff and leaders from marginalized and underrepresented backgrounds is critical to the success of the nonprofit sector. The sector is known for its ability to promote equity and social cohesion and the recruitment and retention of diverse staff is integral to maintaining that purpose. Though establishing and expanding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives is not unique to the nonprofit sector, it is in a unique position to utilize DEI practices and set the stage for a societal shift in the way social issues are addressed and how power is distributed. This work must start internally for the voluntary sector to lead by example, especially since there remains a gap in the representation of nonprofit beneficiaries and those from marginalized communities among nonprofit staff and leadership teams.

Recruiting and retaining a diverse staff is not only an imperative but is inevitable. The U.S. 2020 census data shows a greater representation of different racial and ethnic groups than the last census (U.S. Census Bureau, 2021). Thus, the nonprofit sector needs to be prepared to adequately meet the needs of a more diverse workforce both for the contentment and fulfillment of individuals as well as organizational performance. Utilizing effective recruitment and retention strategies for diverse teams can increase a nonprofit’s financial performance, capacity to innovate, collaborative ability, funding possibilities, and overall impact.

The following nonprofit leadership and management strategies are recommended:

Identify DEI initiatives in the context of an organization’s growth strategy


  • Leaders must be educated on and demonstrate the value of having a diverse staff through benefits to society, the organization, and individuals.
  • Ensure staff have the capacity and resources to learn about the benefits of DEI work and how they can examine their own implicit biases.
  • Embed DEI principles into strategic plan, values, vision, etc.
  • Evaluate and track progress.

Build a culture of accountability

  • Create or update employee handbook to reflect policies around behavioral norms.
  • Form DEI committee(s), discussion groups, and/or affinity groups.
  • Push through discomfort during difficult conversations and decisions if individuals refuse to abide by accountability standards.
  • Create a safe space where individuals can provide open and honest feedback regarding any problematic behaviors of others in the workplace.

Formulate equitable hiring practices

  • Update job descriptions to reflect inclusive language.
  • Post jobs on platforms geared toward those from underrepresented groups.
  • Revise interview content so that nonprofit’s commitment to DEI and employee growth is shown.

Demonstrate investment in employees

  • Provide mentorship and professional development opportunities.
  • Include staff at all levels in decision-making, especially decisions that impact their day-to-day work.
  • Provide continuous opportunities for feedback through supervisory meetings, surveys, or forums.

Set the stage for the nonprofit sector

  • Show appreciation to funders looking for DEI metrics in their grant applications.
  • Hold partner organizations accountable, be selective in partnerships, and share DEI strategies publicly.
  • Encourage board members to use their influence to advance DEI principles at other organizations they may be involved with.

Contracting with a DEI consultant is always an option to help define goals, facilitate trainings or affinity groups, and evaluate progress. A DEI consultant can point organizations in the right direction, but it is up to nonprofits to move DEI initiatives forward.

Corrie Calderon is a 2022 graduate of the Master of Nonprofit Leadership and Management program at Arizona State University and has been involved in the nonprofit sector in various capacities for about 15 years. While completing her Environmental Science degree during her time at the University of Nevada, Reno, she found her niche in environmental education through the nonprofit Sierra Nevada Journeys, where she is now a program director. She hopes to continue to engage her community through her nonprofit career by working for environmental education and environmental justice organizations for years to come.

Image by Lillian Finley

Learn more with our Optimizing Human Resource Strategies in Nonprofits Certificate

The Optimizing Human Resource Strategies in Nonprofits Certificate is for individuals seeking knowledge and skills in nonprofit human resources, volunteer management, change management, and conflict resolution. Through this program you will learn how to recruit, manage, motivate, and reward both staff and volunteers in order to effectively utilize their strengths, effectively lead and champion change within an organization, and develop strategies to overcome internal and external conflict.

Corrie Calderon


ASU Lodestar Center Blog