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Prioritizing diversity recruitment, once and for all

Improving racial diversity in nonprofit organizations, particularly in leadership positions, has been a priority of for years. Yet today’s nonprofit sector still looks really…well…white.

There have been many studies, reports, and coalitions devoted to identifying the reasons behind the sector’s lack of diversity. The most widely reported roadblocks include pipeline challenges (such as a lack of recruitment channels or networking opportunities), as well as competition for top talent from corporate employers who generally offer higher compensation.

The current economic downtown and increased supply of career changers as a result of corporate layoffs highlights this issue even more. If nonprofits aren’t prepared to capitalize on the influx of talent to the job market, it’s a bit of a wasted opportunity. And if there are still no inroads for people of color to nonprofit opportunities, much of the amazing talent that is now available will not find their way into the sector.

The time to act is now. A number of strategies to address racial disparity in nonprofit roles have been identified, such as getting senior staff to embrace this issue, shifting recruitment tactics away from just job postings, and creating career paths and growth opportunities that can compete with typically more higher-paid positions in the corporate sector.

On the surface, implienting these strategies does not seem impossible, especially during a time when there are overall fewer jobs and a greater supply of talent. But the reality is few nonprofits are able to invest the necessary dollars, time, and people to meaningfully address the task at hand. This is not to say that diversity isn’t a top concern. Rather, most nonprofits are unable to prioritize diversity recruitment, at least not to the degree in which they tend to prioritize other mission-critical initiatives.

(Note: at this point, we should state that we do not intend to discount the great strides a number of organizations are making to address diversity in the sector.)

To gain greater insight into this complex issue, we spoke with Rosetta Thurman, an emerging nonprofit leader of color and the principal of Thurman Consulting, an organization that works with nonprofits to increase their leadership and management capacity.

“There’s no silver bullet to solving the probli of racial disparity in nonprofit roles,” Rosetta said, “However, simply posting jobs on Craigslist and Idealist isn’t going to do it. We need to take some risks.”

Some tactics that Rosetta suggested include: going to meetings of professional organizations such as Hispanics in Philanthropy, investing dollars and staff time in a booth at the National Association of Black MBAs national conference.

She added, “It’s ok to be the only white person in the room.”

Our conversation came back to dollars and time. How can a nonprofit trying to spend as much on program costs as possible justify the expense of most recruiting activities?

“We pay for what we prioritize,” said Rosetta,”If we prioritize addressing racial diversity now, we won’t have to pay forever. We may only need to make that connection one time to start to build a network and create a pipeline of candidates.”

Rosetta then shared a story with me about her own experience coming to a nonprofit employer. When she interviewed for her first job in D.C., everyone she met with was white. In her second interview, she met with an African-American employee who discussed how the organization genuinely offered a diverse and inclusive workplace. It was that experience that cinched it for her. “It’s important to understand why the people of color choose to work at an organization. This cultural competency is a piece that the sector hasn’t mastered. Most people of color do come from a mindset of service, but it often looks different from other routes to the same careers. Organizations need to take the time to understand this, and then create a workplace that is inclusive of culturally-informed points of view about public service”

Bottom line: until nonprofits really focus on taking strategic action to improve diversity, there are a lot of good intentions, but not a lot of systemic change. Let’s be the generation of nonprofit leaders that commits to genuinely building diversity. It is only after making a serious investment in creating recruitment pipelines, deep networks, and viable career paths that we will begin to realize a more inclusive, representative, and diverse nonprofit sector.






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