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Moving Beyond Policies: Cultivating Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access in the Nonprofit Sector

Inclusion, diversity, equity, and access (IDEA) are critical elements for creating a truly inclusive and equitable nonprofit sector. While policies and procedures are important, they alone are not enough to drive meaningful change. To foster a culture of IDEA, organizations must go beyond surface-level measures and embrace a holistic approach that permeates every level, starting with the board of directors and senior leadership. In this blog, we will explore examples and strategies for cultivating IDEA within nonprofit organizations, supported by research and statistics.

Board of Directors
The board of directors plays a pivotal role in setting the tone for IDEA within an organization. According to a Stats Canada survey on the diversity of charity and nonprofit boards, one-third of organizations have a written policy to promote diversity on their boards, yet there remains a lack of representation in the sector. Only 11% of respondents belong to a visible minority group; 8% identify as LGBTQ2S+; 6% persons with a disability; and 3% First Nations, Métis or Inuit.

To foster IDEA within the board:

  • Actively seek board members from diverse backgrounds, including different races, genders, ages, abilities, and lived experiences. Ensure that the board reflects the communities served by the organization.
  • Provide board members with training on IDEA topics, including unconscious bias, cultural competency, and inclusive leadership. Encourage ongoing learning and dialogue to deepen their understanding.
  • Foster an inclusive decision-making process by actively seeking input from all board members, valuing diverse perspectives, and creating a safe space for dissenting opinions.

Senior Leadership
Senior leadership sets the organizational culture and drives change. Studies have found that inclusive leadership positively influences employee engagement, job satisfaction, and organizational citizenship behaviour.

To champion IDEA as senior leaders:

  • Lead by example. Senior leaders should model inclusive behaviours, such as actively listening, seeking diverse perspectives, and addressing biases. They should demonstrate a commitment to IDEA in their actions and decisions.
  • Communicate the organization’s commitment to IDEA openly and consistently. Share progress, challenges, and successes to foster transparency and accountability.
  • Allocate resources to support IDEA initiatives, such as training programs, diversity recruitment efforts, and employee resource groups. Ensure that IDEA is integrated into the organization’s strategic goals and budget.

Organizational Culture
Creating an inclusive culture requires a collective effort. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that organizations with inclusive cultures are six times more likely to be innovative and agile.

To foster an inclusive culture:

  • Assess and address biases. Conduct an internal assessment to identify biases within policies, practices, and procedures. Address any inequities and biases to ensure fairness and equal opportunities for all.
  • Involve employees in shaping IDEA initiatives. Encourage open dialogue, feedback, and suggestions for improvement. Create employee resource groups to provide a platform for marginalized voices.
  • Offer regular training and development opportunities for staff at all levels. Provide resources on IDEA topics, promote self-reflection, and encourage ongoing learning and growth.
  • Establish clear goals and metrics to track progress on IDEA initiatives. Regularly assess and report on the organization’s progress, holding leaders accountable for creating an inclusive environment.

To truly address inclusion, diversity, equity, and access in the nonprofit sector, organizations must move beyond policies and procedures and embrace a culture change. Research and statistics demonstrate the benefits of IDEA for organizational performance and employee engagement. By implementing strategies that involve the board of directors, senior leadership, and the entire organization, nonprofits can create an environment where IDEA is not just a buzzword but a lived reality.

Remember, change starts from within, and it is up to each of us to be catalysts for a more inclusive and equitable nonprofit sector.

Michelle Okere, CFRE, is Principal of Okere & Associates and a Search Advisor at crawfordconnect. You may reach her at michelle@okereandassociates.com.