Enhancing Nonprofit Executive and Staff Diversity and Inclusion

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The challenges of creating diversity, equity, and inclusion are not new to nonprofits. The industry has historically been run by white men with women having played only supporting clerical roles. Ethnic diversity has been slow and minimal and has rarely reached the level of leadership. Studies in recent years have shown the importance of diversity in the nonprofit workforce, but the industry has been slow to react. When called on the issue, the industry has given a myriad of reasons as to why diversity has not been established.

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While some, if not all the reasons given are little more than excuses, the industry has a long way to go in order to embrace the diversity needed to connect with the diverse communities they serve. The reasons for the lack of diversity in nonprofits are no longer valid. Nonprofits must increase diversity in both staff and leadership positions by adjusting the organization’s vision to promote a diverse and inclusive culture, set strategic goals around diversity, and make concerted efforts to recruit and retain a diverse work force.


Non-profit organizations are a type of business that provide services to the public at large, and they usually have been exempted from paying taxes. Although the donors of certain products donated to a non-profit organization are taxed typically, non-profit organizations do not pay any taxes from their donations and fundraising activities. Unlike the not-for-profit organization who tends to provide services only to the members, the non-profit organization provides services to society. Staffing of non-profit organization is a critical aspect and need to be done by the managers.

According to Butler and Wilson (2015), The staffing process may be a technical task. An organization can choose to have a consultant to help in the advice on employing another member. In finding a suitable candidate for the position, it is critical to examine if they have a dire passion for the job. The candidate should have a vast knowledge of the role that they are expected to fill. This can be noticed by analyzing the previous work experience. Leadership and excellent communication skills are also expected of the staff to be employed since it contributes to the success of the firm when providing services. All organizations have goals and visions or missions that motivate every staff to achieve the goal set.

This means that for new employees to join the team, they should be willing to work with others and encourage exemplary service production candidates to show success. The non-profit organization is also expected to have a clear path since employees would not hang in there if the organization does not have a mechanism for the growth of both the organization and the employees. Staffing of a non-profit organization can be hectic and stressful but getting the right candidate for the position is worth the stress.


An important initiative is the increase of social equity classes in Public Administration programs at higher education institutions. Addressing nonprofit management in social equity and inclusion classes “helps students build the necessary skills to address complex social problems and engage in challenging social justice dialogues” (Mason, McDougle, & Jones, 2019, p. 406). Educating students and facilitating dialogue around social equity issues provides them with a critical knowledge and awareness for how to operate and lead an organization in the future. Even more important, it provides the foundation and skills to be a social agent of change in the nonprofit sector.

Educating students on topics such as implicit bias, cultural competencies, and factors surrounding race, class, culture, and gender, starts the process earlier of providing students with a holistic knowledge surround diversity, equity, and inclusion (Walker, 2019). Understanding specific groups and communities and the historical significance that surround them advises public administrators to be more socially just in the decisions they make and how they lead the organization in the community (Mason, McDougle, & Jones, 2019). Engaging students through a social equity lens in all classes is extremely important to provide a safe place to gain knowledge and have conversations to break down barriers and work towards implementing changes in the nonprofit industry.

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As nonprofits seek to address issues of diversity within their organizations, they are often confronted with the cost of implementing programs and initiatives. While the business sector generally has more revenue to incorporate equity and diversity training into their staff development programs, nonprofits tend to work with less excess funds to put towards staff development initiatives. Some organizations can creatively utilize other resources. The West Chester University Foundation, for example, is able to take advantage of training out of the University’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (Walsh, 2020).

They have utilized and incorporated the training for staff to improve practices of diversity and equity in hiring as well as being responsive to their funders and clients. Further, there are several freely available online training sites and documentation that can assist an organization in integrating DEI initiatives throughout the organization.

It is imperative that nonprofits make this a priority, however. Increasing diversity among staff and in leadership positions demonstrates that the organization is committed to important social issues outside of the immediate mission of the organization (Avner, 2016). More importantly, it also demonstrates that the organization is committed to increasing representativeness for their stakeholders. One of the major goals of a nonprofit is to respond to a social need or condition (Brown, 2016). When the executive or leader prioritizes incorporating DEI initiatives into the strategic plan and vision of the organization, it helps ensure that social needs are being met through a diversity and equity lens, improving the services and programs of the organization.


Nonprofit organizations will not be able to become diverse [achieve diversity] overnight. [Efforts] Many changes need to be made to move the organization towards diversity, and that starts with the organization’s culture. A shared vision of what a diversity looks like is a first step and must start from the leadership (Walker, 2019). This vision should then be translated into the organization’s vision statement to ensure all stakeholders are aware of the organization’s commitment.

This is the first step towards changing the organization’s culture. The next step is linking diversity to the organization’s strategic plan (Mason, 2020). Setting diversity goals as part of the strategic planning process can help an organization embrace change instead of fighting it. While recruiting a diverse staff seems an obvious solution, it is perhaps overly simplified. According to a study conducted by Community of Wealth, implicit bias leads primarily white recruitment staff to recruit white candidates (BattaliaWilson, 2017). Biases must be challenged, and each candidate must be evaluated based on their qualifications for the position.

Doing so starts with organizational leadership buying into the recruitment process (Teitsworth, 2018). Once a diverse staff is recruited, maintaining an inclusive culture is essential to ensure employee retention. These efforts must reach all levels of the organization. Perhaps most importantly, the new ideas that come from a diverse workforce must be embraced (BattaliaWilson, 2017).

Diverse teams make better decisions and having board diversity has been shown to improve organizational performance (Teitsworth, 2018) Education, evaluation, and accountability will be essential at every step of the process to ensure that all stakeholders understand the organization’s commitment to diversity (Walker, 2019). Embracing these steps can ensure nonprofits take action to become more representative of the communities they serve.

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The increasing concerns of people regarding diversity in nonprofit organizations cannot be neglected by the authorities and other affected persons. Therefore, they are likely to result in the reformation of the structure of human resources in such entities, but the process is going to be relatively slow. The recent trends in this field show that the challenge in this regard has not been efficiently addressed yet, which is especially apparent when considering the ethno-racial composition of boards of directors (Fredette & Sessler Bernstein, 2019).

Meanwhile, the scholars managed to prove that enhanced diversity is critical for better fiduciary performance, stakeholder engagement, and organizational responsiveness (Fredette, & Sessler Bernstein, 2019). This outcome allows concluding on the sufficient justification of greater attention of nonprofits to this area in its present state, which is likely to increase over time.

It is possible to predict specific patterns of growing diversity in these organizations over the next three to five years on the basis of the trends described above. Since these components are adversely affected by the lack of employees from various backgrounds, these entities are likely to adopt “critical mass thinking” in approaching the issue (Fredette & Sessler Bernstein, 2019). It means that they will strive to improve the climate in this sector by increasing the awareness of leaders regarding the mechanisms accompanying the challenge, thereby promoting the evolution of the visible representation of culturally diverse workers.


Overall, there is a lack of diversity in leadership positions in both the business and nonprofit sector. However, the bulk of literature and research identifies gaps in diversity at the executive level. Nonprofit organizations are equally as homogeneous as the for-profit sector and, as institutions that frequently serve diverse populations, are in need of efforts to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion into hiring practices. Most frequently held by white men, all other races, women, and individuals with disabilities are least often in a leadership position in nonprofit organizations (BattaliaWilson, 2017).

Long-standing systemic issues have contributed to the lack of diversity in leadership roles across all professions. Social disparities, education and wage gaps, and various forms of discrimination have prevented individuals from attaining higher-level management and executive positions. As social movements like Black Lives Matter and MeToo bring issues of diversity and inclusion to the forefront of social issues, efforts are increasing across the nonprofit sector to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion practices. Breaking down systemic issues will continue to take time, but it is critical that the nonprofit sector respond accordingly and work to implement best practices of diversity, equity, and inclusion so as to increase diversity among executive and leadership level positions.

Over the next three to five years, more diverse leadership should begin to emerge. The foundations, which have begun to be established, will provide the basis for change. Their policies will be oriented towards the inclusion of culturally and ethnically diverse employees occupying leading positions since they contribute to enhanced results of all operations. In this way, organizations, which do not diversify, will lose the competitive edge, as diverse entities will be more likely to create innovations leading to greater market share.

This conclusion is conditional upon the latter’s improved efficiency in fiduciary performance, stakeholder engagement, and organizational responsiveness positively affecting the outcomes of their activity. Thus, the future climate of successful nonprofits will be gradually shifting towards the inclusion of this nature.

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Avner, M. A. (2016). Strategic Management. In D. O. Renz Editor, The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management (4th Edition) (pp. 396-426). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

BattaliaWilson (2017). The state of diversity in nonprofit and foundation leadership. Web.

Brown, W. A. (2016). Strategic Management. In D. O. Renz Editor, The Jossey-Bass Handbook of Nonprofit Leadership and Management (4th Edition) (pp. 217-239). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Fredette, C., & Sessler Bernstein, R. (2019). Ethno-racial diversity on nonprofit boards: A critical mass perspective. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 48(5), 931-952. Web.

Mason, D. P., McDougle, L., & Jones, J. A. (2019). Teaching social justice in nonprofit management education: A critical pedagogy and practical strategies. Administrative Theory & Praxis 41(4), 405–423. Web.

Teitsworth, E. (2018). Practical ideas for improving equity and inclusion at nonprofits. Stanford Social Innovation Review. Web.

Walker, V. (2019). The road to nonprofit diversity and inclusion. Journal of Infectious Diseases, 220, S86–S90. Web.

Walsh, R. (2020). Personal Interview.

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