Diversity At Nonprofits: Slower Start, Better Results
This week, I was able to witness firsthand the value of diversity at nonprofits. My friend and colleague Ernie Sanders asked me to attend a Grant Writers Workshop put on by the Health Resources and Services Administration. He had a big event coming up and couldn’t spare the time. However, he didn’t want to miss out on the content. I have a little bit of a lighter client load these days and I decided I needed to shake things up. So after some initial hesitation, I said yes.
Very early on, the facilitator randomly divided us into groups. My group of six people consisted of an African American woman, two chinese women, a white woman, a white man, and me, a white Jewish woman. We were in these groups for the duration of the two and a half day workshop. Each day, the groups were tasked with working on the fundamentals of grant writing together.
This Was Really Challenging
From the start, our group struggled. We couldn’t make a decision that made everyone happy. The facilitator was clearly concerned as time ticked by and our group was making no progress. The other groups were writing their outlines on the giant post-it pads and ours was empty. We managed to complete the tasks just before the allotted time was up. But I don’t think any of us were particularly enthusiastic about what we had created. We were having a good time, and it was clear my group had some pretty inspiring folks. I was learning some good information that even had application to the non-grant writing work I do. However, I had some serious doubts about if this process was going to be effective for the six of us in our group. Little did I know…
Day Two Was Different Than Day One For Our Group
When we met the second day, we got right into our groups to continue our work on the grant application. For some reason, it was a little bit easier to come to some agreement about what we were designing. And as the day continued, we were able to make decisions even quicker. By the end of the day, we were able to build consensus fairly quickly and felt really proud of what we were creating.
We were struck by the dramatic difference between how we started out the day before and how things ended on the second day. We also had a sense that our group’s results were among the best in the room. Like the story about the tortoise and the hare, we had started slow, but ended strong. The research described here, here, and here does confirm that the tortoise does tend to win and we were likely right.
It dawned on me then, that this was one reason why diversity at nonprofits was so important. Diverse teams tend to have more conflict and difficulties working together, but that the results tend to be better. This all resonated with the rest of the group when I brought it up. I think we all felt a sense of pride that we had been able to overcome our differences to find effective ways to work together.
Hiring For Diversity At Nonprofits Can Be Tokenism
I will add one caveat for folks when considering diversity at nonprofits. Don’t jump up and exclaim that your organization simply must start hiring people of color right today. Our group was able to find our groove fairly quickly because we had each already done a lot of internal work. We were comfortable with the idea of diversity and were not in anything close to our first experience working with people of a different race. That isn’t the case for most folks who work at nonprofits.
Organizations that have not already done the internal and systemic work at their organization need to start there. Especially when the staff is majority or all white. Because otherwise, diversity at nonprofits is simply tokenism. The result will be a revolving door of staff coming and going because of the harm people of color are repeatedly caused by others on the team who don’t have the awareness or understanding of how to facilitate a welcoming, inclusive, and equitable space for those who are of a different race.
If you’re ready to do the work at your nonprofit organization, I’d love to help. Learn more here.