8 Ways to Expand Your Nonprofit’s DEIB Efforts Beyond Just Hiring

Learn how your nonprofit organization can move beyond good beginnings toward a journey of learning and growth with these DEIB tips.

When nonprofit organizations set out to focus on diversity as a pillar of their hiring strategy without a commitment to DEIB that resonates throughout their practices, new hires enter a culture that’s anything but inclusive. We see this performative behavior often, and while most times it’s initiated with good intentions, it doesn’t bear the desired results. And why would it? DEIB is so much more than hiring, after all. 

To explore how nonprofits can better design their internal and external systems, we talked to nonprofit leaders and DEIB advocates in our webinar, DEIB is Everything - Definitely Not Just Hiring. Our panel included:

In this conversation, they shared a number of ways how nonprofit leaders like you can expand your DEIB commitment to all corners of your work. Here are some of the top takeaways you can adopt today.


1. Dare to Work Toward the Ultimate DEIB Goal

For a very long time, Americans have been searching for and seeking equal rights, but in recent years we've expanded our sights further in the pursuit of equity. Equity is ensuring that everyone has what they need to succeed. 

While equality seeks to level things out on a large-scale basis, equity hones in on the unique needs of individuals. Equity recognizes that some people may need more than others to fully embrace the opportunities you present and feel that sense of belonging in your organization they deserve. 

Panelist Jennifer McKenzie leverages the following formula to build her approach to DEIB and recommends it to anyone seeking to achieve it within their organization:

D x V x F x S > R



First steps

Sustainable Systems/Support


DVFS must be greater (>) than R

This is a multiplier rather than an addition to indicate the importance of 

all four elements. If even just one is missing, the entire equation is canceled.


2. Lead with DEIB as a Top Priority

As leaders, it’s up to us to be proactive about DEIB decisions. Waiting for a DEIB process to arise from employee grievances sets off a reactive response that won’t have the impact that a thoughtfully planned one will. That’s because a leadership-initiated effort shows employees and constituents alike that you stand for them from the very start. 

Your DEIB strategy is equally as important as your fundraising strategy, yet many times it’s overlooked in the decision room because leaders wait to hear from their employees. And while you absolutely want employees involved in every aspect of DEIB at your organization, it’s up to you to create a landing zone for your employees’ voices. Once you take this step, you can learn about the experiences of those who work within your organization, especially those with underrepresented identities, and use your power to take action together on the issues that matter most to them.


3. Practice DEIB Externally Just as You Would Internally

Much of DEIB discussion revolves around how an organization works internally with itself:

  • How do we recruit?
  • How do we sustain? 
  • How do we grow? 
  • How do we preserve culture? 
  • How do we evolve culture? 

But to stop there can come into conflict with your DEIB values because the next questions that follow should be:

  • Are there negative externalities that our organization creates or enables? 
  • Is that work in alignment with who you are as a leader? 
  • As a person?

This new frontier ensures a holistic approach to DEIB that makes your commitment truly effective. Because it's entirely possible to work for an organization that enables negative externalities while creating a culturally safe environment for its team members. Consider your accounts and strategic and corporate partners. Where do they stand on important issues? Tracing the systems that fuel your mission can be tricky, but it's critical to ensure that you're showing up authentically when it comes to DEIB. 


4. Build Trust By Welcoming True Diversity

Make no mistake: inclusion and belonging are rooted in trust. And that trust comes when your staff looks like the people you serve. Assembling a diverse, multicultural team is more than checking a box. It's ensuring that you're equipped with the kinds of perspectives that can design your programs through a lens of empathy. 

Through intentional DEIB work within your organization, your work in the field becomes more resonant, as people can see themselves in your team and know that your advocacy is their own. From there, the people you serve will be more willing to open their hearts, minds, and stories to you, enabling you to serve them better and, ultimately, produce better outcomes. 


5. Ask Instead of Assuming

For too long, the way we've approached accessibility, while well-intentioned, has been rooted in assumptions. In reality, accommodations look different for everybody, even people with the same disability. 

Let's say a team member or community member you serve has low vision. You might think, "They're going to need a text reader." Again, while you're hoping to accommodate them, you may miss the mark here. They might prefer zoom readers, but because you already purchased a text reader, they could feel uncomfortable expressing their preference. 

While this situation is uncomfortable, it’s easily avoidable. All you need to do is ask people, “What do you need?” You don’t have to mention their disability or ask in any specific terms. In fact, this broad question gives the person a voice, along with more space to detail any and all of the accommodations that will best support them.


6. Be Open to Learning Moments (Even the Cringe-Worthy Ones)

DEIB is a journey that takes a variety of forms, including both professional and personal, and it's constantly evolving. On a personal note, many terms we used casually in the 70s would never be accepted today, and at a time when we seek to accelerate our progress, the no-gos in the way we communicate are changing every day. For example, describing people or situations as "crazy" stigmatizes mental illness. And although you might use that word and never intend to convey that message, embracing a learning moment that lets you know it's not okay anymore can help you do better from that point forward. 

The same goes for words we stigmatize that deserve a place in our vocabulary. For example, we've recently focused on the word "ability" when talking about people with disabilities. But that conversation has come full circle, as people with disabilities spoke out and said, "No, disability isn't a bad word." And that learning moment has taught us to check ourselves and, more precisely, humble ourselves to ask questions, listen, learn, and respond accordingly. 


7. Acknowledge the Whole Selves Of Your Nonprofit Community

From your team members to those you serve, the programs you design and the policies you uphold should be built through a DEI lens that celebrates and accommodates their many identities. For example, these folks may also be moms or caretakers, which should change your attitude toward adopting flexible work schedules or making it easy for constituents to access counseling services via Zoom. Before implementing program aspects or refreshing your policies, go back to #5 on this list and ask first. Creating space and opportunity for people to share their personal stories, challenges, and successes in a way that shapes your programs, services, and policies.


8. Thread Your DEIB Commitment Throughout Your Communications

There are many wants to uphold DEIB in your communications that don’t include blanketing your brochures with diverse groups of people. Your supporters can see through performative moves, and more importantly, it matters just as much to your organization that you communicate your commitment in a way that’s genuine and transparent. Implement these tools as mainstays within your organization to keep your team on task with such efforts:

Brand guidelines that keep your DEIB commitment top of mind

Develop brand guidelines - from imagery to voice and tone - that give examples of executing communications that align with your DEIB commitment and values. It doesn't have to be expansive at first. Begin with a two-pager and add more examples and standards in future brand audits. 

Grammarly for a double take on how your words might be perceived

Language matters and online assistive tools like Grammarly can help you understand how you're framing things and suggest tweaks to make your writing more inclusive. The same thought should be applied to emojis, as different cultures may interpret them in negative ways. The key to getting it right? Put the shoe on the other foot and always consider how your reader will perceive your messaging.

Feedback sessions that inform website accessibility

If you’re in the process of creating a new website, consider the many different potentials for the people that are potentially coming to your site. Launch a survey at its debut with a single question such as, “What challenges are you having while trying to use our website?” You could also partner with a community organization that serves people with disabilities and appoint them to assess your website, regardless of whether or not you’re conducting a revamp.  

Job description guides that ensure your words welcome everyone

When you're drafting a job description, how does the language you use affect the applicant's perception regarding their qualifications for the position? Look to DEIB job description guides like this to inform your job descriptions. From inclusive approaches to essential elements of your job descriptions to thoughtful rewrites of language that can be perceived as unwelcoming or discriminatory, this guide can help you grow your community in a way that lets your values take the lead.


More Resources

From the software sales process to the build of your tech stack, it’s critical to elevate your staff along with your own ability to access technology. The Equity Guide for Nonprofit Technology from NTEN can help you ensure that everyone on your staff has what they need to perform their jobs efficiently and effectively without the added stress that lack of accommodations can create.

Executive Director at Ethical Systems and NYU Professor Alison Taylor regularly shares thought-provoking, actionable DEIB content. Follow her on LinkedIn to see her latest work. 


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