The statistics are startling. According to the Center For Effective Philanthropy, more than 85 percent of philanthropic organizations have white CEOs. Only 7 percent of nonprofit chief executives and 18 percent of nonprofit employees are people of color, despite the fact that they make up nearly 40 percent of the US population.

With numbers like these, it makes sense that the most common approach to addressing diversity in the social sector has been through the lens of talent development. By focusing on recruitment, hiring, and retention, organizations have the opportunity to address a critical and highly visible challenge.

While this approach is warranted, it doesn’t comprehensively address the disproportionate impact of implicit institutional bias. Oxford Reference defines institutional bias as: “A tendency for the procedures and practices of particular institutions to operate in ways which result in certain social groups being advantaged or favored and others being disadvantaged or devalued. ... ” We can effectively address individual bias through single-approach solutions, but institutional bias requires a new set of tools.

If the goal is to move toward a more equitable sector, where people of color are employed and thriving at all levels, we need to break the diversity silo, and set our sights on addressing the inequities and bias that exists through the polices, processes, and protocols of our organizations. Here are a few ways organizations can start.

Perform a racial equity organizational assessment. 

Prior to launching a diversity initiative, most organizations complete an employee survey to gain insights into existing attitudes and cultural norms, as well as rates of hiring, recruitment, and retention of racially diverse candidates. In addition to gathering this individual data, organizations should undertake a racial equity organizational assessment.

In the Spring 2012 issue of Journal of Diversity Management, Brigid Trenerry and Yin Paradis write, “Commonly referred to as cultural competency organizational assessment or diversity audits, this approach allows workplaces to review and plan for improved practice across a range of organizational functions.” They note that organizations often overlook these assessments as an approach to managing diversity and addressing racism in the workplace, however several institutions and initiatives (including the Governing for Racial Equity Project, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the W.K.Kellogg Foundation) have established best practices.

Integrate diversity and inclusion goals throughout operations, programs, and performance evaluations.

According to the D5 Coalition's new report, “The Final State of the Work,” we need to hard wire our commitment to equity into our operations. Using data from the organizational assessment, this becomes feasible. Some guiding questions could include:

  • Operations: Does your organization have a policy regarding contracts awarded to minority- and women-owned businesses? Do you rely on bilingual staff to do work such as translation, even though it’s not part of their official role?
  • Programs: Do your programs take into account impact on communities of color and other marginalized populations? How do you integrate those considerations into the planning process? Do you report related goals to your board of directors and other governing stakeholders?
  • Performance Evaluations: Do you evaluate senior staff on diversity priorities? How do you hold them accountable to various benchmarks?

Develop a donor education program. 

The Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University’s report, “Paying for Overhead” cites that 69 percent of foundations support nonprofit administrative costs. However, there is little data on how much of that funding they use to advance diversity initiatives. For any new program or initiative to succeed, nonprofits need funding.

By developing a donor education program, fundraisers can become a catalyzing force with high-net-worth individuals and institutions that may need additional exposure and information to understand the value and impact of diversity on organizations’ goals. 

A great example of a donor education program is the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity (PIFE). Founded in January 2003 as a project of the Tides Center, PIFE has increased grantmaking toward diversity work. And while they have prioritized shifts in institutional giving, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) has begun to engage at the individual level by establishing an AFP Friends of Diversity Designation that re-affirms the need to include diversity as an aspect of programming, rather than a component of overhead.

The nonprofit sector accounts for 10 percent of the American labor force and more than 5 percent of GDP. At this scale, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to move the needle and set a new standard for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The opportunity is ours to take, because diversity can’t just be a commitment, it needs to be a priority.