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Donor Participation Project

Diversity is a Journey: Start with Questions, Not Assumptions

To cultivate diversity and inclusion, nonprofit leaders must adopt a growth mindset. Diversity is a journey, not a checkbox. It requires humility, openness to learning, and a willingness to ask questions.

According to experts, diversity training is not enough.

Real change happens when learning is applied. While 63% of nonprofit professionals completed DEI training recently, only 42% saw improvements in workplace culture. The disconnect shows that intention must be matched with action.

Rather than make assumptions, begin by asking open-ended questions to uncover challenges and opportunities. Survey staff and donors to understand their experiences and needs. Look for patterns to see where inclusion is lacking, then commit to addressing those gaps.

Build a safe space for authentic discussions by admitting what you don’t know and inviting others to share their perspectives. According to Dr. Rashanda Mahon, leaders must “give voice to concerns, challenges and opportunities” and model inclusive behaviors. This helps shift culture by creating belonging.

To advance diversity, focus on allies and curiosity, not political correctness. Allies from outside marginalized groups are needed to drive change. Curiosity enables learning; asking thoughtful questions shows interest in understanding different experiences. Avoid accusatory language and lean into discomfort, seeing it as an opportunity to grow.

At the board level, prioritize diversity and hold members accountable for recruiting outside traditional networks. Look to thought leaders in marginalized communities and invite them to shape strategy. Acknowledge their time and expertise.

Finally, highlight diverse donors and share their authentic stories. Feature them in print, video and social media to build trust and motivate others with shared identities to support your mission. Personal stories of impact inspire more than statistics alone.

Diversity and inclusion are often assumed to be “soft skills” outside the realm of fundraising strategy. In reality, they directly impact an organization’s ability to build trust, reach new audiences and ensure long term sustainability. By starting with an open and willing spirit, nonprofit leaders will make more progress in cultivating true inclusion and belonging. The rewards of this difficult but vital journey are well worth the effort.

View the full recording of this session in our Resource Library.

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