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Diverse Voices are Essential

Posted on November 10, 2021

According to CNN Business, the number of companies with greater than 40% of diversity (in full disclosure this number includes white women) has quadrupled since 2010, however, the number of corporate boards with minoritized members has grown by less than .5 percent since 2004. While a bit of progress has been made in corporate America, one might assume the nonprofit sector would be more diverse, especially given the fact their missions are most often directed at diverse populations. However, according to a recent Race to Lead survey, nonprofits still have a wide gap to fill:

  • 15% of nonprofit workers identify as Black/African American
  • 11% identify as Latinx/Hispanic
  • 8% identify as multiracial
  • 1% identify as Native American/Indigenous
  • Less than 1% identify as Arab American
  • 59% identify as white.

This is a huge problem because as I already noted, many nonprofits focus their missions on Black/African American and Latinx/Hispanic communities. They also often focus social change, healthcare or education, all of which also directly impacts communities of color. However, most of the staff at nonprofits, especially leadership, do not look like the communities they aim to serve, and nor do their volunteers reflect these communities. This is problematic. How can a minoritized or marginalized community trust an organization that does not look like them, have some sort of shared experience or appear to represent their interests?

The answer – they can’t because it is dis-ingenuine for a white person to tell a Black/African American, Hispanic, or Asian community how to solve their problems?

There are four primary reasons for this diversity gap:

Building a Talent Pipeline can be challenging – there are fewer diverse candidates in the pipeline

Nonprofits Lack the Funds to Offer Competitive Salaries – nonprofits have historically paid less and offered less attractive benefits, which leaves the door open to those who can afford a lower salary or limited benefits

Nonprofits often lack Strong HR Departments – in the corporate world an HR department will push for more diversity, create pipeline programs and pathways, and develop promotion structures, without these in place, it is harder to retain individuals.

The Cobbler’s Son Effect – While nonprofits often focus their missions on minoritized populations, they often forget to build in inclusive practices within their own structure. This often occurs because the board is composed of primarily white members.
Ultimately, it is the board members as a collective unit who must come together to foster and build diversity within their respective nonprofits. As a board, they must commit to DEI initiatives not because it looks good on grants or to donors, but because it allows them to more honestly align with their mission and the communities they serve.

In my Regional Volunteer Experience course, we have discussed about white saviorism and the impact it can have. We have specifically discussed leadership in nonprofits and while I have stated that white people cannot show up in a color of community “al knowing with the answers,” I don’t want to imply the white people are incapable or unable to help effect change. Not every white person suffers from white saviorism. The key is listening and developing a relationship with the community and letting the community guide the discussion around their needs and more specifically, how those needs can be met. But ultimately, it starts with the board and their commitment to the community.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Dean, Graduate College
Assistant Clinical Professor & Dept. Head, Goodwin College
Drexel University