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Maximizing capabilities: managers hold the key to organizational diversity.

Most managers have learned how to deal with obvious diversity issues in today's workplace like race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual preference, and physical ability. However, smart managers explore ways of enforcing diversity through compliant diversity management. Smarter managers eventually talk about incorporating diversity practices and processes as a means of enhancing productivity and the bottom line.

Nonprofits are adopting diversity training programs to ensure that the various blends of talented workers maximize their capabilities. Yet, many organizations are still routinely grappling with the question, "How do we maintain a diverse organization, including the board, leadership, staff and volunteers?"

In fact, many nonprofits struggle with this issue and remain in crisis when it comes to making diversity an integral and seamless part of the organizational culture.

This crisis was recently underscored via a 2007 Urban Institute survey of 5,100 nonprofit organizations regarding board responsibilities. In particular, the study examined board composition. It revealed that, on average, 86 percent of board members were white, non-Hispanic background, while 7 percent were African-American or black and 3.5 percent were Hispanic/Latino. Even more striking, 51 percent of all nonprofit boards were composed solely of white, non-Hispanic members. Only a quarter of respondents described ethnic or racial diversity as "somewhat important" for their board composition. Just 10 percent said diversity was "very important."

Nonprofits that serve higher percentages of minorities were far more likely to include members from those minority groups on their boards, but even then, many did not. Among nonprofits whose constituents were more than 50 percent black or African-American, only 18 percent included any African-American or black trustees.

The data is clear. Many nonprofit boards are failing in one of their most important leadership responsibilities--diversity. If a board does not represent and reflect its constituents and community, how can it be expected to lead in that community? More importantly, if boards cannot be the champions of diversity, how can one expect it of others within or outside of the organization?

The reality is that the diversity challenges faced by the board are often the real challenges faced by the organization's leadership, staff, workforce and volunteers. Nonprofits that succeed in the future will be those that successfully create an environment of inclusion and that reach out to diverse populations. For the manager responsible for and committed to diversity, there are several steps that can serve as a blueprint for optimizing diversity in the workplace.

Conduct A Reality Check. First, it is essential that the managers understand the nonprofit's demographic profile. Look around and assess the composition of your board, staff, volunteers and workforce. If it appears to be too homogeneous and looks too much like you, then your organization is probably not diverse, and you might consider resurrecting your diversity efforts.

The reality check should include an assessment of not only the current demographic landscape, but also an assessment of what skills and resources will be required for the future. Diversity within an organization simply does not happen.


Managers must have a clear understanding of the composition of the workforce to determine what skills and resources will be needed in the future. Having a secure grasp of this information will be invaluable in determining what role diversity will play in future recruitment and hiring.

Start Diversity From The Top. Not all nonprofits are willing to make diversity a priority, even when it is an organizational mandate. Change must come from the top since diversity is not generally a bottom-up phenomenon. In organizations around the world, diversity initiatives only take off when it becomes a serious priority for the leadership and senior management.

Start with the board and ensure that its members and senior managers are committed to inclusiveness, otherwise, your organization will never become diverse, nor sustain it over time.

Once the commitment to diversity is made, it is absolutely essential that any diversity program involve all members of the organization. Each must understand its importance and understand how it will result in a more productive and high performing work environment.

In today's competitive environment, few nonprofits can afford to waste resources--especially human capital. Rather than relying on the skills and capacity of a few employees, it becomes more critical to reduce barriers of inclusion by developing top performers from culturally diverse groups. An inspiring plan that seeks input from different members in the workplace could yield enormous results in the form of increased interest and productivity from staff members who might otherwise not contribute. People are much more likely to become highly valued employees in an environment that embraces cultural sensitivity, fairness and inclusiveness.

Build And Maintain A Strong Diverse Environment. Becoming diverse requires work. Members of diverse groups are not going to automatically come to your organization simply because you proclaim you are diverse and seeking their help. Assessing where the organization is today and building for the future means managers must examine workforce trends and focus on recruitment, hiring and retention-the pillars of a solid diverse workforce. Recruitment, hiring and retention should be among the top strategic goals of every manager and objectives for every level of the organization.

A frequently-heard complaint is, "We have been pursuing diversity for years, but we simply can't find a pool of qualified or interested candidates." People of diverse ethnic background often do not perceive mainstream organizations as readily accessible. Is your personnel service office amicable and accessible? Is your front-line staff approachable? What about the office environment and art on the walls? Nonverbal cues are as important in identifying your commitment to diversity as what you say. What channels do you use to identify and recruit viable candidates?

Traditional ways of recruiting are often ineffective in attracting a diverse group of employees interested in nonprofit service. In identifying groups or individuals to recruit, consider contacting both formal and informal channels and sources. Formal sources might be the library, newspaper, high schools, colleges, and professional organizations. Informal groups could consist of minority student organizations, local faith-based groups and community-based organizations with diverse membership.

Don't forget that diverse employees within your organization are a key resource when building or maintaining a successful diversity program. Let them be creative, and encourage them to spearhead the diversity plan and program. Successful diversity programs connect recruitment, hiring, training and retention strategies with organizational performance. As the program becomes more successful, employees supporting diversity feel more empowered, management's remaining obligation is to develop an appropriate reward mechanism within the organization to encourage and maintain diversity.

Because diversity is frequently perceived as such a weighty issue, some managers might be afraid to move confidently forward to embrace it in the workplace. Understand that the most sophisticated organizations in the nonprofit sector have not been addressing diversity for longer than 10 to 15 years. The concept of addressing diversity in an organized manner in the charitable sector simply hasn't been around that long. Remember that this is a new and emerging field for the sector, and we are all learning as we go. while nonprofits can look at best practices emerging, innovations are still taking shape and being measured.

The face of America is evolving, and the key to successful activity within tomorrow's nonprofit organization will be adaptation, fueled by cross-cultural competency and a general understanding of various social processes. The manager of yesterday might have felt comfortable excluding particular communities within the workplace. The nonprofit manager of tomorrow will accept and welcome the responsibility building and managing a diverse workforce.

Alphonce J. Brown, Jr., ACFRE, is the director of development for the National Minority Aids Council in Washington, DC The immediate past chair of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), he is a frequent lecturer, writer, teacher, Master Trainer, and presenter who conducts workshops throughout the United States, Europe and Canada. His email address is
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Title Annotation:MANAGEMENT
Author:Brown, Alphonce J., Jr.
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Date:Apr 1, 2008
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