Diversity Among Non-Profits: Yes, But Why?

diversity among nonprofits

While non-profits are in the business of making the world a better place, they can sometimes overlook what’s within their own walls. A lack of diversity is pernicious for any organization. Non-profits are positioned to be leaders in many ways, including on issues of diversity.

Aside from the moral imperative, however, there are other reasons why improving diversity can lead to a more successful organization overall. Diversity among nonprofits means more innovation, and donors appreciate organizations that do the right thing inside and out.

Diversity Improves Decision-making

Expanding diversity can inject fresh ideas into an otherwise stagnant environment. According to Katherine Phillips, an Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management, diversity in a group creates awkwardness, and the need to diffuse this leads to better problem-solving.

Alongside Margaret A. Neale, a Stanford University professor, Phillips demonstrated that homogeneous groups tended to feel more confident in their performance although diverse groups were actually more successful.

When creativity appears to be stifled, consider whether diversity could improve the exchange of new ideas. Disagreements are good for creativity and making better, more considered decisions.

Diversity Leads to a Better Workforce

Diversity in the workforce tends to make people prepare better and to anticipate other viewpoints during discussions. The idea that having people with diverse backgrounds on your team will make the team more creative is not a new one. Social diversity brings people with different experience, attitudes, and viewpoints together, which can lead to more innovative ideas.

What is less known is that simply being part of a diverse group makes individuals more creative— and this has been backed up by recent scientific studies. Professors Cristian Deszö (University of Maryland) and David Ross (Columbia University), for example, discovered that gender diversity correlated with success. Female representation in top management leads to a significant increase in firm value. These companies also tended to prioritize innovation.

Orlando Richard – a professor of management at the University of Texas at Dallas – discovered a correlation between racial diversity, innovation, and enhanced financial performance.

Diversity Enhances Innovation

A survey of 1,800 professionals, 40 case studies, and many interviews and focus groups reminds us that having diversity present in your non-profit is not enough. To get the most from the diversity of your staff, each member needs to feel that they are treated fairly and that an equal opportunities policy is in place. It’s also necessary for diversity to be present throughout your organization, including the leadership, for your non-profit to be considered diverse.

The survey showed that women are 20 per cent less likely to find support for their ideas where the leadership is predominantly white, straight, and male. People of color were almost 25% less likely to find endorsement of their ideas than white males.

So now you’ve seen how diversity can lead to improvements in the performance of your non-profit, here are some practical suggestions to help you make your non-profit more innovative, more fun, and more successful.

1. Understand your biases

It’s natural to have biases. In most cases, they are limiting and it takes effort to appreciate and overcome them. The key to understanding biases is to be prepared to look.

Take this quiz to help you and your staff start thinking about these areas and initiate a conversation.

2. Encourage dialogue

Innovation flourishes when members of your team can interact freely. Encourage a culture of openness and sharing ideas and concerns. This will lead to better team building and make your staff more invested in how the organization runs.

3. Remember that race and gender are only two dimensions of diversity

It’s easy to think of diversity in terms of race and gender. To truly live up to the ideal of a diverse workplace, however, and to get reap the moral, financial, and creative rewards that come with that, consider other identities, including:

• sexual identity
• nationality
• socioeconomic status
• educational attainment
• age
• physical ability

4. Consider how many identities influence your viewpoints

Would you have the same opinions if you had more or less education? What if you were from a poor or wealthy background? Would your priorities be the same if you were sight impaired, or running your organization from a wheelchair?

5. Communicate and demonstrate your values

As a non-profit, you can be a leader for other organizations. Don’t hide the great work you are doing. Make sure that your staff and the outside world know that you value diversity.

Make sure that you are not only talking the talk, but also walking the walk! Demonstrate your diversity by maintaining clear policies and always consider how to open up hiring, both in terms of the board and staff, to talented people from underrepresented groups.

Donors will also be pleased to know that you value diversity. People are more likely to donate to organizations that they like, respect, and trust. If you can communicate your ethical stance to your donors, you are likely to see an improvement in your fundraising efforts.

Author: Kelly Campbell
Kelly Campbell is an Agency Leader Transformation Coach based in New York. The former owner of a cause marketing agency for 14 years, she helps creative leaders transform their businesses and their lives—focusing on the 5 P's: purpose, people, positioning, pipeline and profitability. She speaks at agency growth conferences across the country, has been featured in The New York Times, Woman Entrepreneur and Forbes, gets vulnerable on Medium, and is currently authoring her first book on reframing leadership. She is the host of THRIVE: Your Agency Resource, a bi-weekly video podcast sponsored by Workamajig that helps agency owners navigate personal and professional growth.

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