Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Don't Let Your Organization Become Pale, Male and Stale

A new report from the Racial Diversity Collaborative and Urban Institute shows that 92% of national  nonprofits headquartered in Washington, DC are led by non-Hispanic white executive directors.  This is extremely troubling given the fact that nationally - minorities, classified as those of any race other than non-Hispanic, single-race whites - currently constitute about a third of the U.S. population, according to Census figures.  In fact, did you know that by 2042, the U.S. will be a "minority-majority" society, i.e. minorities will comprise more than half of the population?

After reading this report, I took my dismay (and these dismal stats) to Altanta and channelled my frustration into Diversifying Your Nonprofit Tech and Communications Teams, a panel I moderated at the 2010 NTC (Nonprofit Technology Conference) .  (See deck above.)

This workshop, starring Allyson Kapin of Rad Campaign and Women Who Tech; Shireen Mitchell of Digital Sistas, and Ivan Boothe of Rootwork, ignited a great conversation about the lack of diversity in the nonprofit sector in general and tech in particular.  Specifically, we discussed how a lack of diversity can (and does) compromise nonprofit fundraising, communications and advocacy efforts.

I've mentioned this before, but diversity is a hard topic to address. Discussions about race, in particular, tend to come with a lot of baggage.  I notice that black folks often feel ignored and worry about being labeled whiners, while white folks clam up for fear saying the wrong thing and being called racist.  The good news is this didn't happen at NTC.  In fact, we had a very rich discussion.  It's my hope that we'll persist in having these conversation and making a business case for diversity in order to change the composition of nonprofit leadership, coalitions, and organizations.

A comment from one of the panelists was particularly helpful to me. Ivan Boothe reminded me that diversity is about both process and people.  In other words, in addition to hiring people from diverse backgrounds and inviting them to be a part of our organizations, it's also important for charitable organizations to be more inclusive in the way that they work.  The latter can be accomplished by opening meetings to all staff and inviting partners and the people we serve to join our boards and committees. (Frontline staff and constituents are often people of color.)

We ended our session with the following questions.  Answering these queries may help you open the gates to work with new and different constituents.  I'd love to hear your thoughts as well.  How are you ensuring that your nonprofit is diverse, in both it's leadership and the communities it serves?  In other words, what are you doing to ensure that your organization does not become pale, male and stale?*
  • Who is missing from this debate/constituency?
  • Where do they “live?”
  • Do the people on our staff have relationships with them?
  • What tools should we be using to reach diverse audiences? (Facebook, MySpace, Black Planet, Hi5, mobile)
  • Are we questioning our assumptions about who people are, where they come from and what they need from us?
  • Is leadership invested in diversifying our staff and teams?
  • What would this coalition/program/service/application look like if we viewed it through a “diversity lens?”

P.S.  If you want a concrete example about what can go wrong when you don't have a diverse community building, testing and launching your new programs, services and applications, watch this video - HP Computers are Racist.

*Beyond Pale, Male and Stale is a chapter in Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media by Jessica Clark and Tracy VanSlyke.  You should buy it!


Mark Riffey said...

Thought you might find this old post interesting, given the title:)



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