The fallacy of diversity and inclusion statements

I am pleased to work with a wide range of nonprofit organization managers 1. This includes the executives of churches, synagogues, environmental groups, professional and trade associations. One thing that almost all share is a focus on outreach and recruitment. It’s a core theme for most nonprofits, and I think it is fair to say that the majority of nonprofit organizations are struggling with this crucial aspect of reaching, impacting and recruiting.

This month it’s all the rage for nonprofit organizations to add mission statements of diversity and inclusion. I’m thrilled with it. It is hugely important that our nation address this tragic underlying tide of racism and bigotry. But in some cases, management is missing the true mark in its actions now. I fear that the focus on inclusion and diversity actually takes away from the much needed efforts to improve value offered by the organization. In this pandemic close-down year, more than any other, organizations must ask themselves “What are we worth?” and “What value do we really offer to stakeholders?” This must be a year for focused nonprofit management change and I fear that the current trend could be more of a distraction than a progression within some organizations.

If your organization’s membership or your board is struggling to grow, then maybe the problem isn’t lack of diversity and inclusion. Maybe the problem is that your value proposition is weak. Maybe people just don’t care about you as much as they used to. Maybe if you first fixed the value proposition to make it more attractive, then it would be more popular to people with varied backgrounds. This statement is not a different version of the washed-out “all lives matter” logic. This is solid fundamental business building methodology. We must actually offer perceived value before we can expand that offer to a wider target audience.

I used, as an example, a fantastic nonprofit organization that has zero results in recruiting from my geographical area. It’s a familiar topic; I’ve worked with the management of several organizations that struggle with this same issue in my region of South Jersey. I’m quite sure that adding a diversity and inclusion statement won’t have a significant impact on your net results here. But other things would make a difference. How about we discuss those next?

I commend those nonprofit boards who have questioned the value of diversification purely for diversification’s sake. At some point, that strategy reeks in the nonprofit world. Nonprofits don’t need to be recruiting a volunteer work force, for example, among minority populations that are already struggling to convert their time into an improved standard of living. Again, it makes more sense to ask “what value do we offer our workers?” and so then the work force will naturally grow.

The point here is simple: If your organization has a problem reaching minorities, first look to see if you have a problem reaching any person to show real value.

1 The nonprofit and for-profit organizations that I lead adopted strong formal anti-bigotry statements in 2017. We are jokingly referred to locally as “little United Nations” now. I take this as a sign that the policies are working. We may tweak the wording this year to emphasis more of the positive aspects of inclusion rather than focus on primarily unacceptable behavior policy. But the nonprofit organizations referred to in this post are those where I am not in a control position but may serve as a board member, accountant or activist member.


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