Kathleen LaTosch

  Kathleen LaTosch


Improving internal diversity and inclusion is frequently a struggle for nonprofit organizations. Well-intentioned staff are often overworked, underpaid and have so much to do that adding another item is overwhelming and exhausting. And while improving the internal diversity and inclusion of your organization is important or imperative, how do you formulate a plan if you don’t know the steps to be successful?

These real concerns become more compelling when considering that inadequate attention to diversity and inclusion is costly, and that quality attention to diversity and inclusion results in major gains in productivity and effectiveness. Let’s take a look at these issues and review simple strategies to help you move forward efficiently.

The Costs: staff turnover, training expenses, limited grant opportunities. Nonprofit leaders have a duty to be good financial stewards to their mission. Inadequate attention to diversity and inclusion can easily cost a small-to-medium sized organization over $100,000 per year.

  • Staff turnover is expensive. The cost of replacing one staff member is 50%-200% of his/her annual salary, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. HR staff time, supervisor time, accrued time-off payout, temporary coverage, reduction in program delivery, team disruptions, hiring activities and training all add up. Replacing staff who have less than a year on the job is even more expensive since employees are not fully productive for months.
  • Diverse staff are more likely to leave an employer they find unfair. According to the 2007 Corporate Leavers Report, people of color are three times as likely to cite workplace unfairness as the only reason for leaving their employer. Gay and lesbian professionals said workplace unfairness was the only reason they left their employer. Recruiting for diversity without fostering an inclusive work environment results in those diverse recruits leaving an organization after a short period of time. Unconscious bias, mono-cultural norms, and innumerable micro-aggressions that are invisible to the dominant culture leave staff feeling excluded and treated unfairly.
  • Traditional diversity training doesn’t work and may cause more harm than good. While many organizations start with diversity training, recent research has shown that traditional models of training actually have an adverse effect. The 2012 Harvard Business Review article, “Diversity Training Doesn’t Work,” compared trainings that focus on appreciating difference against those that polarize difference. Polarizing trainings led to people feeling defensive and cynical, increased staff turnover and resulted in the organization having to pay to fix the mess. In some cases, it even led to expensive lawsuits.
  • Funders are looking at diversity metrics. In October of 2014, GuideStar, a leading nonprofit reporting group, announced it would begin publishing demographic information about nonprofit boards, staff and volunteers. The information is a tool for philanthropists to use when considering giving choices. In a few years, nonprofits that have not become diverse may find their grant prospects limited.

The Benefits: improved workforce productivity, greater creativity and innovation, mission relevancy with diverse constituencies.

  • Organizations that value employee differences and leverage the power of those differences have higher productivity. DiversityInc found organizations that value employee differences resulted in employees with higher levels of overall engagement. Furthermore, employees with the highest level of engagement perform 20 percent better and are 87 percent less likely to leave the organization. Not only will you save money on high turnover costs, you’ll gain in employee productivity.
  • Numerous studies link diversity to an inclusive environment with greater creativity and innovation. In his book The Difference, University of Michigan’s Scott Page shows how groups of diverse problem-solvers out-perform groups of high-ability problem solvers. Bringing groups of diverse-thinking individuals together and supporting their interaction is synergistic, producing ideas that are greater than the sum of their parts, creating new ideas that like-minded individuals would have not conceived.
  • Diverse and inclusive organizations are more effective with diverse constituencies, better understanding how the mission lands on specific communities and how it is or isn’t relevant to their lived experiences. These organizations gain a better understanding of how and where to reach specific communities and what messaging will be most engaging. Further, having a staff, board and volunteer base that is representative of those communities provides an open door, particularly for marginalized communities who feel more at ease seeing someone like him/herself reflected within the organization.

Maximum-Impact Steps

Now that you know some of the costs and benefits, it’s time to get started. In a 2014 Independent Sector report, Fellows studied nonprofit diversity and inclusion initiatives and found four impact-maximizing steps that had the greatest success, were the least resource-intensive, and took the least amount of time to see results.

Before you get started, it’s important to be aware that engaging in diversity and inclusion work must be modeled and led by organizational leadership to be successful. Further, there is no end-point. Diversity and inclusion is a work in progress, always striving for improvement. Be vigilant about maintaining a high level of integrity with your process, making sure to clearly articulate what will happen. Members of marginalized communities have been let down over and over by employers and can be easily discouraged by another failed attempt.

Ground your organization in a shared understanding of why diversity and inclusion is important and how it is tied to the mission. This understanding should be drafted in a statement that will be a powerful guiding force and will build engagement if input from staff and board fuel the content. The statement should define both diversity and inclusion and relate those terms to meaning for the organization. It should indicate what the organization will do in support of these values and how people will know the organization is doing its work. The finished statement can be used in multiple ways: posted at office entrances and at the website, attached to all job postings, and shared with incoming staff, board and volunteers at orientation. Sharing the statement is key as it sets the stage for all future steps and makes a commitment to all who interact with your organization. It’s a promise of care.

Improve and update your recruiting methods. Chances are, you know exactly where your diversity deficits lie. It’s time to do some research and find out the best places to attract talent among those demographics. What media outlets are used by this community? With what organizations and institutions does this community participate? What educational institutions attract members of this community? Do postings need to be multi-lingual or use assistive technology? What diverse fairs and community events exist where you could recruit? What online resources support this community? Update your job postings checklist with these sites and make sure every job posting is consistently posted within these outlets. Do this for board, volunteer and intern recruiting too. Special note on recruiting – in order to be successful, you must also assess if your existing work environment is an inclusive one that will welcome new arrivals. How are people embraced when they arrive? How are their differences affirmed and valued? Be on alert for micro-aggressions and unconscious bias which could undermine your efforts.

Replicate best practices across the organization. This action step helps organizations frame the work from a solution-focused perspective and also energizes your staff by highlighting the “bright spots” that are working well. Some key questions to ask: What is your organization doing well on diversity and inclusion? Are there programmatic elements that can be adapted for staff development? Is one department engaging in successful team conversations that foster intentional inclusiveness? Can this be replicated in other departments? Do you offer successful cultural education programs to the community? Can they be adapted or encouraged for staff attendance? Find out what your bright spots are and expand them.

Cultivate partnerships. Convene a small group of diverse thought leaders across your field for roundtable discussion. It’s an excellent way to build connection across nonprofit organizations, strengthen and foster relationships, and infuse new ideas, practices and programs into your organization. Valuable and concrete outcomes can stem from cross-cultural training opportunities for staff, job posting and volunteer exchanges, deeper issue education and awareness, programming partnerships and collaborations.

You can do this on limited resources and be successful. Just take it one step at a time.


Kathleen LaTosch is a consultant specializing in diversity and inclusion planning for nonprofit organizations. For more information about Kathleen’s work and availability, email her at klatosch@gmail.com or visit www.LaToschConsulting.com


This article is reprinted from Issue #5, of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!

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