I had the opportunity to speak at the National Human Services Assembly Summit last week on the topic, “Responding to the Diversity Gap” along with Carolyn Creager, director of the Multicultural Executive Development Program of the National YMCA. The theme underlying our discussion was that society is changing all around us, yet the nonprofit sector isn’t keeping pace with the cultural shift in America, nor making enough of an effort to recruit, retain, and promote people of color to top executive positions in our field. The reality is that the current racial makeup of this country is changing, and as nonprofits we have to think about who we will be serving, and who will be leading. I know you saw this in The New York Times:

“Ethnic and racial minorities will comprise a majority of the nation’s population in a little more than a generation, according to new Census Bureau projections, a transformation that is occurring faster than anticipated just a few years ago. The census calculates that by 2042, Americans who identify themselves as Hispanic, Black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander will together outnumber non-Hispanic whites. Four years ago, officials had projected the shift would come in 2050.”

I also shared some up-to-date stats about the current racial makeup of nonprofit leadership, as well as my disappointment with the lack of people of color who are being recognized for their contributions. I think everyone agreed that we need to promote sweeping changes in nonprofit culture regarding diversity issues. My aim was to remind the audience that all of us in that room were agents of nonprofit culture, and there were many things we could each do individually and collectively to raise the issue of multicultural leadership at every opportunity we get. In that room were CEOs, VPs, directors of mostly national organizations, and I know they each sit on some committee, board of directors, or taskforce where their voice is influential to others in our sector. If in fact we are concerned about increasing the racial diversity of nonprofit leadership, we need to put our money where our mouths are and start taking some risks, personally and institutionally, to make that happen. What role can we each play as an agent of nonprofit culture to change the game? A few ideas we discussed:

  • Prioritize cultural competency—educate yourself and your staff to be aware of how our different cultural backgrounds affect how we see others.
  • Expand your networks beyond your comfort zone.
  • Make the extra effort to reach out and include people of color on your committee, your board, and your taskforce.
  • Attend trainings to learn more about race, ethnicity, culture, and equity to better understand the issues.
  • Support affinity groups.
  • Avoid tokenism—don’t just look for one representative of color to fill a spot; invite several people to participate at once.
  • Speak out on this issue by writing letters to the editor and opinion pieces in your sphere of influence to motivate others to pay attention to this need.

We ARE nonprofit culture, and it is up to us to be the change we wish to see. AFP’s magazine, Advancing Philanthropy, has a great article in the current issue about the importance of having lunch with someone of another culture to get to know people outside your usual networks. I think that’s a great idea. But I also think we each can use our voices to motivate others in our organizations and across the field.

You CAN take action today: Write a short email to the Nonprofit Times editor to express your support for an open nominations process in their selection of the annual Power and Influence Top 50 list of nonprofit leaders. Tell them you want to see their publication reflect the racial diversity of leadership within our sector! Send an email to Paul Clolery at: ednchief@nptimes.com or call him at: (973) 401-0202 Ext 211.

Together we can change our culture, one step at a time. I share my presentation with you here so that it might spark some thoughts of your own. What are your ideas about individual and collective action we all can take to make diversity everyone’s business?


imageRosetta Thurman is an emerging nonprofit leader of color working and living in the Washington, DC area.  She holds a Master’s degree in Nonprofit Management and blogs about nonprofit leadership and management issues at Perspectives From the Pipeline.

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