Training Matters for Nonprofits: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

December 5, 2016
6 minutes

Nonprofits are very aware of the terms diversity, equity, and inclusion. The biggest challenge today faced by many leaders regarding those terms is how to turn the dialogue, with the right intention, into action.

For some of these nonprofit leaders, the desire to create greater diversity is not being realized as they had initially been planned. For others, the responsibility lies toward a lack of proper training or in the failure to commit to the mission plan after making a half-hearted attempt to change course.

Given the global representation in any of our states, there is no better time than the present to identify, define, discuss, and support this training concerning diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Defining the terms


It is much more than racial. Diversity includes any way we differ in all characteristics that make us individuals. Most of us will use this term to determine race, ethnicity, and gender. Yet it also includes age, national origin, religion, disability, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, education, marital status, language, and physical appearance.

Not just limited to physical characteristics, diversity may also include the diversity of thought related to ideas, values, and perspectives. It does include acceptance of individuals who may affiliate with multiple-personalities or identities as well.


To put it simply, this is the fair treatment, access, advancement, and opportunity for all persons or groups. Equity strives to identify and eliminate any barriers that would prevent full participation from some groups. Equity improvement increases nonprofits' justice and fairness regarding procedures, institutions, or systems, including the distribution of resources.

Dealing with the challenge of equity means first examining and identifying the root cause of where the disparity began to appear. We would then build upon the root cause with knowledge and awareness as a foundation. This will only serve to strengthen its resolve to avoid the same scenario from repeating in the future.

Leaders should be aware that there is a difference between equity and equality, as they have different meanings. Equality has all persons on the same level, while equity, on the other hand, refers to the qualities of justness, impartiality, and fairness in the eventual outcome. To put it in brief terms, Equality equals Quantity, while Equity equals Quality.


Inclusion's goal is to create environments where groups and individuals can feel welcomed, supported, respected, and valued. It is a safe space. This type of environment embraces our differences and offers respectful words and actions with the expectation that all persons participate fully.

It is useful to note that while an inclusion group is diverse, a diverse group is not necessarily inclusive. We must be aware of 'implicit bias' (unconscious bias) that encourages organizations to address issues of inclusiveness to be more deliberate in their defense.


  • Each person has value to contribute. This remains the moral (i.e., justice) case to be made. Given that this is a fact, we need to address any barriers or historical factors that led to the marginalization of a particular population or group of individuals. As one example, racial equity would see a non-racial biased future with a distribution of wealth, benefits from the society, and no burdens affected by a person's skin color.
  • The economic case to be made here is based on the fact that organizations drawing from a diverse talent pool are stronger and more efficient. Discrimination is seen by economists as inefficient as it clearly creates a significant misallocation of human resources.
  • Organizations' core operations generally reflect the diversity of their market base. The impact of minority buying power in the United States grows each year significantly. By 2043, the majority of the population will be non-white, according to the U.S. Census bureau. In the nonprofits sector, clients are the customers, and the expectation is to see their own diversity represented in the nonprofit's organization. This should also apply to donors and philanthropic endowments. It may be obvious, but it needs to be noted that a diverse leadership team is more likely to appreciate and understand the needs of a diverse community or client base.
  • Upon examining the results case, it shows that diverse teams led to higher outputs. It is a fact that groups of diverse problem solvers will always outperform groups of the "best" individuals at problem-solving. Leadership, which is diverse in nonprofits with the diversity experience behind them, tends to lead to better solutions related to social problems.

Why it matters

The conversation needs to happen today more than ever. Social consciousness has been raised in recent years given the social movements of Black Lives Matter, #metoo, Jewish and Muslim places of worship under attack, inequality in marriage, and mass incarceration. All of these show just how severe inequity has permeated all corners within our country. 

There is a heightened awareness causing many nonprofits to begin open and frank discussions about their challenges regarding diversity and inclusion and their responses based on real examples benefitting the bottom line.

With the support of the philanthropic sector, data is being collected to track the progress (or lack thereof) of the recipients. This has led to more and more foundations reporting their demographic data, including those related to their grantees.


Organizations create environments of valued individuals when they incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion across their dimensions. Organizations practicing inclusivity foster cultures more focused on the goals of the nonprofit and show that they are less prone to be distracted by significant bias issues. This is a strategic problem to resolve, not a human resource one. These efforts are reflected in the mission statement, vision, and strategic plan.

Leaders need to invest the time and resources (and tenacity at times) to see the progress achieved. Through a collaboration of diverse resources, solving an organization's goal of attaining fulfilled equity and inclusion will be reached sooner than later.

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