No one wants to believe that they or their company has bias, especially nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to do social good. But, it happens. Conscious or unconscious bias may reduce your openness to people who are different from you, and in turn, can dramatically affect your hiring process.


Research over the past eleven years has repeatedly demonstrated a tilted field in nonprofit hiring, especially in senior executive and development level positions. Despite this knowledge, the percentages seem to show little movement.


Instead of rehashing the statistics, here are several immediate, introductory steps that can improve diversity within your nonprofit organization. These steps don’t require a major financial investment. They do, however, require sustained commitment from top leadership.


7 Introductory Steps to Overcome Bias in Hiring and to Help Build a More Diverse Workforce


Take recruitment beyond insider recommendations.

 Nonprofits, like their for-profit brethren, tend to favor recommendations from staff and board members when it comes to hiring for key positions. Studies show that that 65%-75% of jobs in the U.S. are filled this way. Because people tend to socialize with those who are like themselves, their networks are often self-reflective.


An easy first-step to create a diverse pipeline into your organization immediately is with interns, volunteers and new board members. The relationships created here will help you develop connections that drive diverse, high-potential referrals from entry-level through senior management.


To move beyond this, recruiting efforts should include outreach to minority groups through events and career fairs, community partners, multicultural associations, HBCU alumni, HSIs, and recruiting firms dedicated, equipped and proven to identify diverse candidates. Developing an inclusive slate of candidates may take time, so start building these community relationships now.

Implement blind recruiting techniques & refocus job descriptions.

The goal of blind recruiting is to focus on the right qualifications and capabilities that the job requires, thus removing implicit bias from the early phases of recruiting. Breaking current identification habits mitigates the unfair loss of opportunity and significantly increases the candidate’s chance of advancement throughout evaluation process. For example, one study shows that blind interviews increase the likelihood that a woman will be hired by 25%-46%.


Most nonprofits already block out photos in the early stages of recruiting. Many organizations go further and remove the candidate name to create a more equitable review process. This act alone can make a big difference.


A far too common practice that holds nonprofits back from finding diverse talent is the use of traditional job descriptions. Instead of using boiler-plate templates, focus job descriptions on the skills, values, and characteristics that will develop your nonprofit. Think about the traits that are needed to be successful in the role, then build job descriptions and conduct interviews accordingly. There are plenty of business books on the market that can help you with this. Check out the book by Janet Boydell, Barry Deutsh, and Brad Remillard, You’re Not the Person I Hired: A CEO’s Survival Guide to Hiring Top Talent, which recommends interviewing based on 5 key predictive elements: high initiative, flawless execution, leadership, past success, and adaptability.  


Assemble a diverse hiring committee.

71% of minority candidates attempt to evaluate a prospective employer’s commitment to diversity during the interview process. If your interview team doesn’t reflect an inclusive workforce, candidates are more likely to self-select out of the hiring process because the culture doesn’t resonate with them.  Job seekers, especially Millennials, take jobs where diversity is valued and look for evidence of a commitment to diversity during the hiring process.

Stay on point during the interview and evaluation.

Once a personal connection is made between the interviewer and the candidate, the possibility of slipping into a more conversational style of interviewing grows. Research shows that when the interviewer becomes “personally connected” with the candidate, bias starts to form. Listening skills drop, and often times, the candidate is subtly prompted to refocus an answer, giving the candidate a “second chance”. These distractions are wrought with implicit bias, eat up time, and take away from fairly completing—and evaluating—a comparable set of questions and answers between candidates.


Even the best interview process can get tripped up during the internal post interview analysis. Cross-cultural and gender dynamics often come into play during the evaluation process. White interviewers recommend a candidate of color significantly less often than a white candidate, even though they have the same credentials. Make sure that those on your hiring team will speak up when conscious or unconscious bias is affecting decisions.

Standardize your scoring system.

We’re always amazed when we find organizations that don’t use a scoring system to evaluate candidates, rather than going on “gut-feel”. Focus on the importance of defining outcomes instead of checking the traditional boxes of skills, education, experiences and other qualifications. Whatever your preferred scoring system is, use it. Don’t hire without a clear picture of the traits necessary for success, and an evaluation methodology that’s numerically scores the required attributes.


6. Avoid tokenism.

It’s unwise and unfair to expect an individual from a minority group to represent all members of the group. Research has shown that while recruitment programs focusing on diversity may gain new staff, tokenism creates alienation and diminishes retention.


If you benchmark the organizations that have achieved success with inclusive, diverse staffing, they share a commonality: they have all taken a strategic approach to diversity recruiting. It’s a long-term commitment, but you won’t get there if you don’t get started.


To learn more, DOWNLOAD PNP’s Recruiting for a Diverse, Multicultural Team: An Introductory Executive Action Blueprint for Nonprofits.  



PNP Staffing Group provides a full suite of staffing services exclusively to the nonprofit, association and social good sectors. Specializing in filling positions that are key to the performance and growth of an organization, PNP offers every staffing solution a nonprofit may need. With five offices servicing hundreds of nonprofits around the country, PNP is an ideal partner when searching for experienced professionals or considering your next career move within the nonprofit sector.