Home / Blog / Creating a More Inclusive Environment at Your Nonprofit: Ethnicity

Creating a More Inclusive Environment at Your Nonprofit: Ethnicity

In March, The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia gathered alumni of its Emerging Nonprofit Leaders Program (ENLP) and current members of its 10th class at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia.   Jonathan Zur, President and CEO of Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities led the group through a robust discussion and brainstorming session on ways local organizations and leaders can take action to create a culture of diversity and inclusion in their nonprofit organizations and across the sector.

In a recent blog post, we shared that diversity is the presence of difference generally related to one’s identity and might include ability status, age, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or other factors that make a person unique.  Inclusion is the accepting, respecting, and valuing of this diversity.  Working to achieve diversity and inclusion in the workplace should be a fundamental part of fulfilling the mission of any nonprofit. It creates an environment of involvement and connection and allows for the richness of ideas, backgrounds and perspectives to be harnessed to create value for the organization, clients and the community.

To begin moving towards active inclusion in the workplace, nonprofit leaders must 1) examine their own lens to have a deeper understanding of their perspectives and perceptions to create a framework for approaching and addressing their own bias – whether that be conscious or unconscious.  Nonprofit leaders must 2) ask and encourage tough questions to create deeper dialogue within their organization, especially with staff who come from different backgrounds than them.  This will allow the leader to develop a clearer understanding of how experiences affect work styles, behavior, communications, and relationships and eventually form an atmosphere of greater trust.  Nonprofit leaders must 3) acknowledge institutional bias, which are the practices, policies, structures and traditions that push some people up and others down based solely on identity. It’s important leaders realize that institutional bias may exist in their own organization causing barriers towards inclusion and ultimately, equity and justice.

Local Barriers and Suggestions for Interventions

What are some of the barriers that organizations, leaders and staff create in local nonprofit organizations that prevent diversity and inclusion (in both the workplace itself and with clients and the community)? What are actions steps that they can take to intervene and overcome these barriers, leading to a more inclusive nonprofit environment?  The Emerging Nonprofit Leaders group analyzed several different “Identities” in relation to their own organization and below are the findings.  This week we focus on one of nine identities – “Ethnicity”.  In later posts, we will focus in on the others – gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status or other factors that make a person unique.  Make sure to read our previous posts on Ability Status and Age.



A main discussion from the group was around the difference between ethnicity and race.  Often, the words are used interchangeably but the two words do have separate meanings.  According to the World Atlas, race is the word used to describe the physical characteristics of a person and might include everything from skin color to eye color and facial structure to hair color. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is the word used to describe the cultural identity of a person. These identities can include language, religion, nationality, ancestry, dress, and customs.

Regarding ethnicity (we will discuss race in another segment) the group mentioned several barriers that they’ve observed in their workplace.  One well-known barrier in the nonprofit sector is under-representation of ethnic and cultural diversity on nonprofit boards.  The participants observed that many organizations that serve low-income communities that are often ethnically diverse have few board members from diverse backgrounds.  They extended this notion to upper-level management as well.  This makes serving and understanding the communities being served much more difficult.  One specific barrier related to this is a language barrier from those providing the services and those receiving them in the local nonprofit sector.

Another common occurrence is the lack of individual donors from diverse cultural backgrounds.  Nationally, this is true, as well.  According to Blackbaud’s latest “Diversity in Giving Study” nearly three-fourths of donors today are non-Hispanic whites, even though whites make up only 64 percent of the population. Conversely the study finds that both African-Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented in the donor universe. Asian donor participation appears congruent with the Asian population size.  The study goes on to say that the under-representation of African-Americans and Hispanics suggests that organized philanthropy is not doing an adequate job of engaging non-white communities. For instance, African-American and Hispanic donors say they are solicited less frequently.  Furthermore, they suggest they would give more if they were asked more often.  The group agreed that understanding the differences in giving traditions in various cultures and creating engagement strategies accordingly would help to make the individual support base for their organizations more diverse.

The participants went on to express the importance of their organizations becoming very intentional in making all aspects of their organization more ethnically diverse.  This strategically could include training (that’s mandatory!) within their organizations to build cultural competency, professional development and looking at outside resources that might be available.

Regarding attracting more diverse talent, the group said that the organization should intentionally recruit for ethnic diversity within all levels of the organization as well as the board. Bridgespan has some tips on recruiting ethnically diverse staff and in an earlier post on D&I Jonathan Zur gives some examples of best practices for recruitment.  Here are some practical tips from Blue Avocado for recruiting for board diversity.  Board Source has a ton of great tools like this Diversity and Inclusion Assessment.  The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities also has a training coming up on June 14th through their Workforce Inclusion Network (WIN) on “Measuring Diversity and Inclusion Efforts” that can help you get started.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *