Diversity & Inclusion: Accelerate Nonprofit Engines

What recharges your battery? A walk on the beach, reading a good book or chatting with an old friend? These are all true for me. But when it comes to work, brainstorming greases my wheels. In the simplest form I can do it by myself – my process is sitting in front of my computer screen and randomly typing my thoughts.

Yes, this solitary activity can feel good in the moment. However, it is a much more powerful and satisfying experience when I brainstorm with a team of independent thinkers who have different viewpoints and experiences to share. It is impossible to even predict where our collective ideas might land.

If you apply this same creative process within the walls of a nonprofit, imagine the possibilities. To do this you must be intentional and assemble a diverse staff and board and then support them with a culture of inclusiveness. When everyone associated with the organization feels included, respected and supported, diverse perspectives and approaches will drive your mission forward and fuel operational efficiency.

Leaders should never underestimate the importance of diversity and inclusion and how they are at the core of high-performing teams. I encourage you, my nonprofit friends, to establish diversity and inclusion policies and act upon them when recruiting new employees and strengthening your existing teams. This culture will empower your organizations to expand capacity and solve complex problems, your boards to interact at the generative level and your employees to be more engaged and satisfied with their work.

First and foremost, leaders should lead by example. They must exemplify best practices and empower those around them to act accordingly. They are responsible for developing and executing strategic plans for recruiting and retaining a well-aligned diverse team. With the right team in place, strong leaders should then focus on understanding what motivates each employee. Practices should be put into place to enable individuals, and the organization as a whole, to succeed.

While diversity and race are often considered synonymous, there are many other critical attributes to consider when building an effective team – ethnicity, age, gender, physical ability, sexual orientation, socioeconomics, philosophy, geography and work style to name a few. Each organization must assess its internal and external diversity goals and then develop the right strategic mix. And while diversity is the mix of your team, inclusiveness is what brings the team together and propels it forward.

On your mark, get set, go – here are some recommendations to get started:

Don’t just go through the motions.

Establish a vibrant culture that demonstrates diversity and inclusion. Enthusiastically support this important work by walking the walk. Ensure your team is engaged and understands how everyone’s actions impact the organization’s overall success.

Start your engines.

Evaluate diversity internally and externally to identify needs. Consider all of the players including the board, staff, volunteers, community partners and other key stakeholders. Adopt diversity policies, goals and a plan for implementation. Periodically assess your efforts and adjust your course when necessary.

Harness your horsepower

Implement diversity and inclusion training programs for your board and staff. Teach your team behaviors that can both support and undermine the organization’s progress. Establish a culture where everyone listens, speaks and acts inclusively. Build awareness about how what individuals say can impact others.

Look under the hood

Understand what motivates the individuals on your team. Talk to them about who they are, not just about the work they do. Commit to providing them with challenging and satisfying work along with the tools to succeed. Consider offering mentoring opportunities to support career goals. Ensure that all employees feel valued and supported.

Avoid the tire-kickers

Build a team of advocates who are aligned with your organization’s diversity and inclusion plan. Intentionally recruit new employees and board members who will add to the team, not detract from it. Be on the lookout for those who pay you lip service and are not committed to your culture.

Join Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums on September 27, 2016 to fuel your nonprofit’s diversity and inclusion engine.

Thank you to the Greenville Journal for publishing this Opinion Editorial on September 22, 2016.

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Debbie Nelson

Debbie Nelson is the president and founder of DNA Creative Communications, a woman-owned public relations and inspirational marketing firm for nonprofit organizations. Under Debbie’s leadership, in 2010 DNA founded Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums, an annual training program for Greenville nonprofits in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greenville County, the United Way of Greenville County and the Hollingsworth Funds. To support other nonprofits across the state, she also manages education programs for the South Carolina Association of Nonprofit Organization. As an a advocate for the nonprofit community, each month Debbie shares nonprofit stories in her Shine the Light columns in the Greenville Business Magazine and the Columbia Business Monthly. In addition she teaches nonprofit marketing at Clemson University to inspire and develop future nonprofit leaders. Debbie is a graduate of Leadership Greenville, Leadership South Carolina and the Riley Institute’s Diversity Leadership Initiative. She currently serves on the boards of the Greenville Area Development Corporation, the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, the United Way of Greenville County and the United Way Association of South Carolina.

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