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Thursday, February 17, 2022

Why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Practices Matter for Nonprofits

In March 2022, Charity Navigator will release its first ratings evaluating the extent to which nonprofits are implementing policies and practices that contribute to inclusive workplaces and more equitable outcomes for their staff and constituents. Rating this set of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (or “DEI”) policies and practices provides donors an opportunity to see how organizations are representing themselves to their constituent communities, and if their values of DEI transcend within their organization. Charity Navigator’s DEI ratings have been developed by reviewing literature and directly engaging with dozens of field leaders in partnership with external consultants at the Center for Urban and Racial Equity (CURE). 

This consultative process has shown that, while the sector has varied emphases and acronyms for the work (such as Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access), there is growing consensus around a common set of DEI principles and practices that help nonprofits maintain positive work cultures and achieve their charitable mission. 

Dr. Judy Lubin (President, CURE) kicks off this blog post with high-level lessons on why these practices are so essential for the nonprofit sector. Dr. Lubin’s reflections are followed by thoughts from Claas Ehlers (Chief Executive Officer, Family Promise) on how his organization has infused these practices into the work they do to help children and families achieve sustainable housing and independence. 

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Dr. Judy Lubin Reflects on Principles for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Why should nonprofits implement these equity practices? 

Nonprofits have a charitable mission that distinguishes them from other sectors. However, they are a microcosm of a society in which historically marginalized communities (based on race, gender, sexual identity, age, and disability) are still disproportionately impacted by systemic inequities. Nonprofits that do not take this account can unintentionally replicate these inequities in their workplaces and in the communities they serve. 

How can implementing equity practices benefit a nonprofit organization?

These practices have been shown to increase internal motivation/belonging of staff; as well as contribute to better decision-making (at the governance and staff levels) and better performance. One way this benefits organizations is by helping to ensure that the same dynamics and exclusionary practices that create and reinforce inequities in our communities and society are not being replicated in the organization. This approach also can create more authentic engagement and partnership with underserved communities by centering constituents as leaders/experts in addressing community conditions, as opposed to a relationship where nonprofits are posited as “saviors” of these communities.

How can nonprofits begin their DEI Journey?

Ideally, race, equity, diversity, and inclusion practices adopted by nonprofits help leadership and staff build an understanding of how systems have traditionally functioned to exclude, harm and make life more difficult for people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ people, and people with disabilities. But it can take time to challenge this status quo. Building shared language and analysis and designing policies, practices, and programs that reflect these new and emerging values and commitments to race, equity, diversity, and inclusion is a necessary first step.  Outside support and resources will likely be needed as organizations undertake their equity journeys. 

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Claas Ehlers: A CEO Reflects on Family Promise’s Commitment to DEIA

More than 50% of families experiencing homelessness are Black. This is a systemic and structural problem that needs a systemic and structural response.

After the George Floyd murder, we empowered task forces for DEIA, held up the mirror, and engaged experts. We identified gaps. We created a plan for addressing communications, culture, hiring, and our vision. We started a journey.

In the past two years, we have seen the percentage of staff who are non-white grow from 20% non-white to 33%, including C-level leadership. We added staff with lived expertise with homelessness. We developed a culture where DEIA issues are discussed openly and use that lens on every message we give.

We still have far to go. But we have trust and openness. The need for our work exists because of structural racism and the legacies of disenfranchisement. Our commitment to DEIA makes us better able to end family homelessness. 

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In the next two blog posts to follow, we will address how and why Charity Navigator evaluates DEI, and how we aim to utilize feedback from surveys in future iterations of our DEI ratings.


Co-authored by Dr. Judy Lubin, President, Center for Urban and Racial Equity (CURE), and Class Ehlers, Chief Executive Officer, Family Promise. 

CURE partners with people and organizations to advance equity and justice through policy, systems, institutional, community, and societal change. https://urbanandracialequity.org/  

Family Promise develops community-based Affiliate programs that serve children and families experiencing or at risk of homelessness and provides ongoing support for these Affiliates to empower families to achieve and maintain their sustainable independence. Family Promise is a 4-Star rated nonprofit by Charity Navigator.  https://familypromise.org/ 

Please read the full blog series herehere, and here.

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