This is one of the first articles I’ve seen talking explicitly about racism and its impact on people of color in the nonprofit sector (“How to think differently about diversity in nonprofit leadership: get comfortable with discomfort,” Nonprofit Quarterly, April 2017). All too often, nonprofit sector professionals, Boards and other stakeholders brush off issues of inequity within our organizations because we want to believe that the good we do in our communities should offset the inequity that we perpetuate within the organizations doing these good works. This is flawed logic. 

Nonprofits, and philanthropy, are uniquely positioned for community impact and should be leading the charge on modeling not just diversity, but inclusion and equity. We, who serve our diverse communities, should be the first to reflect those communities among our staff, on our Boards and in our practices. We should be the first to demonstrate for our colleagues in other sectors that diversity and inclusion are not a “nice to have” but a necessity for long-term success. We should abhor and challenge the tokenizing that runs so rampant in our sector’s staffing and on our Boards (“Whew, we recruited a person of color. Work done.”). We should be excited to drive toward the success that science literally proves follows effective diversity and inclusion strategies.
Instead, so many organizations either discount or minimize the importance of diversity and inclusion or lament the difficulty of creating diverse and inclusive organizations. And it’s true that it can be a challenge to make staff and Boards more diverse and to practice inclusion at all levels of the organization.

 Here are some of the challenges I hear expressed most often:

  • “I don’t know where to find diverse candidates” (I have a list of places)


  • “We’re looking for the most qualified candidates” (What leads you to believe that ‘most qualified’ and ‘person of color’ is mutually exclusive?)


  • “I need to slot a [white] donor into this speaking role for political reasons” (Does the donor actually want that role? If you had a conversation with the donor about your goal to amplify the voices of people of color in and throughout your organization and why you wanted to do that, do you really think you’d lose funding? If you did lose their funding because you were committed to diversity and inclusion, do you really think that’s the right donor for you?)


  • “It’s uncomfortable to talk about race; I’m worried I’m going to offend someone or say the wrong thing” (Why is your comfort more important than people’s freedom from racism?) 


We, as a sector, must interrogate our biases and perceived roadblocks to equity. We must challenge the prescription for leadership that has been handed down to us. It’s obsolete and no longer serves us.

We are fast running out of reasons to internally uphold the oppressive systems that our organizations were created to mitigate. We simply cannot solve issues like poverty, food shortages, the need for affordable housing, transportation, education challenges, healthcare needs or community violence without addressing systemic racism. 

So yes, if we want to get better, we’re going to have to have some uncomfortable conversations. 

There is an expert resource at the ready for helping teams navigate uncomfortable conversations about race and other aspects of social identity, for cultivating authentic engagement on teams leading to improved performance and giving people the tools to create truly inclusive environments. Community Tampa Bay is here. Give us a call when you’re ready.

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