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  • Pat Libby

Nonprofits can lead better with diversity

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

It’s easy to sit around and play the blame game about what’s causing divisions in our society, but the real question is:

How do we begin to bridge these divides?

Janice McCabe, in an article called “Doing multiculturalism,” suggests three things:

  • Recognizing and valuing differences

  • Teaching and learning about differences, and

  • Fostering personal friendships and organizational alliances

What does this mean to you and to me as nonprofit leaders?

We need to:

STOP pretending that being "colorblind" about race is a good thing.

As Monnica Williams writes, "Colorblind Ideology Is a Form of Racism" – One that "allows us to deny uncomfortable cultural differences."

And she's right.

People experience the world differently because of the color of their skin.

And of course, people experience the world differently if they display other kinds of "differentness" – for instance, if they are LGBTQ or wear a headscarf.

We know that people look different from one another. We can see it with our own eyes and hear it in people's voices if we keep our eyes closed.

Let's not pretend that everyone is treated equally.

And let's not pretend that any of us is free of prejudice.

Let's get to know people so that we can learn to respect and understand our differences (as best we can).

In a similar vein, let's STOP presupposing anything about anyone.

Why do we assume that all working-class people are Trump supporters?

Or that people who are much younger or older than we are so different from us? All young people aren't self-absorbed just as all older people aren't brain-dead.

My most treasured friendships are with people who are decades younger than I am, or many years older. I love these friends because their different perspectives and life stages enrich my world. It really is a lot of fun.

Let's stop making uninformed judgments and generalizations.

Why, for example, do people assume that someone like me, a "privileged white woman," hasn't been the victim of (and has real fears about) discrimination because I am a Jew?

Nonprofits can lead better with diversity.

Nonprofit boards and staff aren't close to being as diverse as they need to be because people don't take the time to use their networks and expand upon them.

Really, it's not all that difficult.

I do it all the time with all kinds of nonprofit clients, when I work with them to strengthen their boards and recruit staff.

WildApricot also has some great resources for recruiting a diverse Board.

Nonprofit leaders can lead best by vowing to never recruit someone ONLY because they LOOK a certain way, or check a certain box.

Instead, nonprofits must dedicate themselves to recruiting people because of their expertise – because of what they can contribute. Sure, part of what people can bring to the table is diverse life experiences, however, ideally, that is in addition to the particular skills they have.

That simple truth is essential for recruiting an integrated qualified board and staff.

And, more often than not, the byproduct of that diversity will be new ways of thinking and doing the work, new ways of attracting volunteers, new ways of supporting the organizing, etc. In other words, the organization will be stronger and more effective.

We need to:

  1. START by talking to people who don't look like us, think like us, aren't the same religion, race, class, sexuality, etc.

  2. Relate to people as individuals, finding out who they are as we develop relationships with them.

  3. Stop assuming who people are without getting to know them.

  4. Be open to and interested in people who look different or think differently than we do.

  5. And incorporate all types of people with all kinds of differences into our nonprofit organizations.

Trust me, we'll be better for it as a nonprofit sector and as people.

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Pat Libby Consulting is a San Diego based firm that offers nonprofit consulting and philanthropy consulting services. Get in touch for more information on board recruitment services, or to schedule a free consultation.

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