Improving Diversity in Nonprofits

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Diversity Workshop participantsA group of more than 100 nonprofit and grantmaker CEOs, board members, and staff gathered in December to discuss how to develop more diverse organizations. The event was presented by Donors Forum and sponsored by Exelon.


Panelists -- each of whom has shown a commitment to diversity by leading their organization to develop internal processes and a culture that promotes and values diversity -- included Gloria Castillo of Chicago United, Terry Manzany of The Chicago Community Trust, and John Rogers of Ariel Investments. Steve Solomon of The Exelon Foundation moderated the discussion.

Key take-aways from the discussion included:

  • Diverse organizations tend to be higher performing because the varying backgrounds tend to cultivate a space where innovated solutions and programs are developed. They adapt faster to changes in their environment because of the diverse flow of information they are able to access on a regular basis.
  • Diversity starts at the top. If the CEO and board demonstrate the significance of diversity by actively creating a diverse culture through internal processes, and by voicing the importance of valuing and respecting colleagues of a different background, then the chances of lasting change are high.
  • All parties must be involved to create a more diverse social sector. Although at the end of the session those that attended agreed that the panel was "preaching to the choir," everyone agree that meaningful change in the nonprofit and philanthropic community surrounding this issue starts with the "choir" getting others to join in.

Additional resources:

“Achieving Diversity Step-by-Step: A Step-by-Step Guide to Diversity and Inclusion,” by Tyra Sidberry and Pat Dixon. Third Sector New England.

 “A Fresh Look at Diversity and Boards,” by Jan Masaoka. Blue Avocado.

 “From Rhetoric to Practice: Recruiting Strategies to Make Diversity More Meaningful in Your Organization,” by Katherine E. Jacobs and Andrew Grant-Thomas. Nonprofit Professionals Advisory Group.

 “Inching to the top: Nonprofit managers who are minorities search for a quicker way up the ladder,” by Michael Anft. The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Oct. 18, 2007.

“Vital Voices: Lessons Learned from Board Members of Color,” by Vernetta L. Walker and Deborah J. Davidson. BoardSource.

“The Voice of Nonprofit Talent: Perceptions of Diversity in the Workplace,” by Robert Schwartz, James Weinberg, Dana Hagenbuch, and Allison Scott. Commongood Careers and Level Playing Field Institute.‎. 

-- Marlee Honcoop, Nonprofit Programs Coordinator