Applying DEI Best Practices for Your Nonprofit

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Racial inequality extends to all facets of life, including the nonprofit sector. While many may be tempted to deny this occurrence, nonprofit leaders can use this as an opportunity to champion the charge against inequality and lead by example within their own organizations.

Whether we like it or not, many traditional fundraising practices create an inner circle of supporters. From exclusive events to donor recognition walls, our top tier donors (many of whom have similar backgrounds and privileges) are put on a pedestal and can become a highly exclusive group. As the sector pushes more and more for higher fundraising return on investment (ROI), these trends of exclusivity according to wealth and background are reinforced.

That doesn’t mean that a high ROI is a bad thing, or that these fundraising practices should be retired. Rather, it means that we can’t get so caught up in these things that we lose sight of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) best practices or refuse to spend some of the funds we earn on becoming a more inclusive organization.

The best way to start prioritizing DEI initiatives is by taking steps to ingrain these concepts into your organization’s culture.

When these concepts are ingrained in your organization’s culture, you’ll find that inclusion and prioritization of equity will trickle into every decision you make. Therefore, we recommend taking the following steps to apply DEI best practices for your nonprofit:

  1. Lead From the Top
  2. Guide Your Staff
  3. Set Milestones for Improvement
  4. Encourage Staff to Get Involved
  5. Watch the Culture Start Shifting

This guidance comes from almost a year and a half of hosting DEI experts and equitable fundraising practitioners on the Bloomerang blog and webinar series.

If you’re new to the topic and how it affects the social good sector or simply have your interest sparked, we highly recommend doing some additional research about DEI for nonprofits. Then, take concrete steps to start making a difference at your organization.

Wanting it isn’t enough. Implementing policies and prioritizing DEI best practices will help you start seeing a difference in your own organization.

Lead From the Top

While it’s not impossible for your staff members to lead the charge, nonprofit leadership has the power to change the tone of conversations and easily set an example for everyone else at the organization.

These leaders can take concrete actions to help set the tone for the entire culture shift at the organization. All changes should be rooted in knowledge and learning, so that’s the first step.

Allow leadership to learn about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

If someone at your organization doesn’t have the expertise and experience to make such workshops and learning experiences happen, invite someone into the conversation who can provide such perspectives. You might decide to take informative actions like:

  • Taking online courses regarding diversity and inclusion in the nonprofit workplace and sector. The Nonprofit Leadership Alliance’s resource on nonprofit courses lists several options that your organization might consider to get started with a professional perspective.
  • Attending workshops where leadership can learn about recognizing bias, DEI terms, and more.
  • Having a leadership retreat specifically focused on diversity and inclusion so that leadership can gain some perspective while stepping away from the other organization activities.
  • Hosting a book club and having your team read a book on the subject. For example, at Bloomerang our CEO hosted a book club where we read How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.

Learning about the concept from a distance is a good way to start, but it’s also important for leadership to start considering their own biases and how they can start improving themselves internally as well. We recommend beginning with Harvard’s Implicit Bias Test to learn about the types of biases your leadership are coming in with. Leaders must first acknowledge their biases in order to start taking action to eliminate them.

It’s important to recognize that individual education and bias recognition is only the beginning. You need to also plan to start applying what you’ve learned in the context of your organization. Ultimately, you want to be sure you’re taking action that will structurally change the organization, an action that can only be taken from the top down.

Identify opportunities for improvement at the organization.

After attending classes, workshops, and/or a retreat, there are probably some easy next steps that leadership can identify to start on immediately. For instance, you might decide to:

  • Self identifying pronouns in email signatures and online display names
  • Create a setting where people can ask questions and start discussions on the topic
  • Convert job descriptions to be gender neutral and clearly state salary information

Of course, other activities will likely take some additional time to get started at the organization. However, these quick actions set the stage for even more culture-changing activities to occur.

Guide Your Staff

Nonprofit leadership is a great place to start enacting your DEI best practices, but it’s not the end-all-be-all to shifting culture at your organization to be more accepting. Rather, once your leaders have taken their first steps to becoming more DEI-friendly, they should guide your staff to do the same.

Similar to your approach for leadership, you should start guiding your staff by encouraging or requiring educational opportunities regarding DEI. For instance, you might require them to take the same classes or workshops that the leadership did. Be sure to follow these opportunities up with open discussions to make sure everyone has a chance to express how they feel and reinforce what they’ve learned.

Even after going through training themselves, your leadership probably isn’t qualified to teach the rest of the staff. At that point, it might be helpful to bring in an HR consulting firm or an expert on the subject to make sure all concepts are addressed comprehensively and sensitively.

Set Milestones for Improvement

As we mentioned before, there are small things your organization can enact right away to apply DEI best practices to your nonprofit. However, these are not the only actions you should take to address the issue. You should also be sure to develop larger goals from what you’ve learned to include in your organization’s overarching strategic plan.

Bloomerang’s strategic planning guide explains how your organization should check back in on your strategic plan over time in order to make sure everything is on track. When DEI best practices are covered within this plan, you can keep them front-of-mind along with your organization’s other priorities.

For instance, your nonprofit should consider how you can take actions such as the following to address DEI best practices for your organization:

  • Revamp your hiring process to diversify your applicant pool and extend your reach.
  • Create nonprofit policies regarding DEI to align everyone at the organization.
  • Reanalyze compensation policies to ensure financial opportunities are equitable across staff members.
  • Add a DEI training element to your staff onboarding process.

For each of these types of strategies, you’ll likely also come up with a goal for what diversity looks like at your organization. When you determine new strategic plans like these, be sure to also identify a measurable metric to assess your success level regarding your DEI initiatives.

Check in on your progress on a regular basis and be sure the metrics are easily accessible. This guide explains how your organization’s fundraising priority metrics should be available on the forefront of your CRM dashboard. If you’re prioritizing your DEI initiatives, it makes sense that measurable metrics for your progress in this area should also be displayed prominently so that you can check in regularly.

However, you should make sure you’re not taking actions simply to check the box for DEI initiatives. That’s why we suggest starting with education. When you begin with this foundation, you should commit to becoming more accepting rather than just checking the box for it.

Encourage Staff to Get Involved

Workshops and courses on DEI subject matter can be a good start, but sitting in a classroom environment is not necessarily something that your staff members will want to do all of the time. There are plenty of unofficial ways that they can get involved with your initiative while having a big impact on it.

Encourage staff members to take initiative during your push for DEI best practices. Your staff members can lead the charge, but be careful that BIPOC staff members aren’t burdened with all of the work. For instance, team members might volunteer to:

  • Share stories of their own experiences. Your board members and staff members may have experienced racism first-hand in the past, or witnessed it. These stories can be invaluable in creating empathy and commonground among co-workers.
  • Call out areas where the organization could do better. Giving employees a safe forum will encourage them to speak out as well as generate meaningful change.
  • Organize events with speakers or material of their choice or create discussion questions specifically regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion.

These types of events and activities tend to be more intriguing and entertaining for your staff members over time. Plus, this encourages them to get directly involved with the initiative, taking on responsibilities, which helps them feel more involved.

After they’ve gotten involved in this way, make sure to continue past the education phrase of DEI initiatives. For instance, you might send out surveys asking staff members how the organization is doing in terms of inclusivity, encouraging them to speak up if they see non-inclusive behavior, and guiding ongoing discussions on the topic.

Watch The Culture Start Shifting

Changing a culture of inequality and biases requires everyone to be involved. One person or just the leadership can’t do it alone. They need the support and cooperation of everyone else as well.

With these tips, you can start changing your nonprofit’s culture to become more inclusive. Instead of simply checking off the diversity box, it will become an ingrained aspect of your organization, eventually bleeding through to the other activities you do.

Applying DEI best practices to your nonprofit isn’t a one-and-done activity. It requires constant work and effort to make a change. But if enough organizations and individuals shoulder the responsibility to make this change, we can contribute to the push for a more accepting world.


This article was contributed by Jay Love and the team at Bloomerang.

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