Demographics Are Destiny: How and Why to Diversify Your Staff Now!

Submitted by Brett on Tue, 04/05/2011 - 12:47pm

By Jocelyn Harmon, Director of Nonprofit Services, Care2

Unless you've been living under a barrel, you know the demographics of the U.S. are changing.

Here are some key highlights from The Changing Demographics of America by Smithsonian. I encourage you to read the entire article.

  • The United States of 2050 will look different from that of today: whites will no longer be in the majority.
  • The U.S. minority population, currently 30 percent, is expected to exceed 50 percent before 2050.
  • Most of America's net population growth will be among its minorities, as well as in a growing mixed-race population.
  • Latino and Asian populations are expected to nearly triple, and the children of immigrants will become more prominent.
  • Today in the United States, 25 percent of children under age 5 are Hispanic; by 2050, that percentage will be almost 40 percent.

It's also interesting to note that, according to Wikipedia, Hawaii, New Mexico, California and Texas are already majority-minority states. And, in Maryland, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Mississippi, and Florida, the percentage of non-Hispanic whites has fallen below 60 percent.

So What and Who Cares?

The changing demographics of the U.S. are already having and will continue to have a profound effect on organizations of all stripes and sizes. Here's why. Different communities have different tastes, dreams, challenges, goals and desires! In order to succeed as organizations – i.e. create and distribute the right programs, develop and market the right campaigns, and raise more money – we need to learn about these new "audiences", understand their values, and connect with them in authentic ways.

Here's the challenge: most nonprofits are not racially and ethnically diverse, especially at the highest levels of leadership. Instead, they are majority white.

Last spring the Urban Institute and the Racial Diversity Collaborative released a study called Measuring Racial-Ethnic Diversity in the Baltimore-Washington Region's Nonprofit Sector. The study, like others, found that "nonprofit sector leadership lags population diversity." Specifically, while people of color comprise 49% of the population in the region, they make up only 22% of nonprofit leaders. In addition, the study found that Executive Directors of color mostly lead local or regional organizations, not national organizations. "Nearly all (92 percent) of national organizations are led by white executive directors." These percentages are even worse for nonprofit boards!

I am making an essentialist argument here, but it's my belief that unless we diversify our organizations by race and ethnicity, we will find it hard to succeed and stay relevant in light of the changing demographics of the country.

This is because diversity is more than an ethical issue. It's also a tool for achieving organizational success.

Last year, I moderated a panel at Women in Green in Pasadena, CA. Panelists included Patricia Monahan, Former Deputy Director for Clean Vehicles, Union of Concerned Scientists, and Angela Howe, Litigation Manager, Surfrider Foundation. I asked both women to talk about how they apply the lens of gender when planning advocacy campaigns, building coalitions, and marketing their programs. Interestingly, Patricia Monahan said, "At UCS we don't look through the lens of gender, we look through the lens of race and ethnicity. Because we are in California, we have to find ways to connect with the Hispanic community or none of our initiatives will succeed. Hispanic voters comprise approximately 25% of California voters."

There are many examples like this; perhaps you have some from your own organization. The point is that the changing demographics of the country are forcing nonprofits to address issues of diversity in their organization. It's become critical to their future success.

How do you do it?

Ok, you're sold. You want more diversity on your staff. In particular, you want more diversity on your teams that advocate, make, market, and sell stuff. But how do you do it? Here's my 5-step plan.

  1. Do nothing. Yes, that's right. Do nothing. Do not buy an online ad. Do not call a recruiter. Do nothing until you know why you want more diversity on staff.
  2. Set goals. If you get nothing else from this post, please repeat after me: diversity is a tool for helping you achieve your business objectives. Thus, before undertaking a human resources initiative, you must do some soul-searching and define your business goals for diversity. This is really important. Diversifying your staff will not be easy. If your only rationale is "it's the right thing to do", your efforts are likely to fail. More importantly, you risk alienating your new hires because you have failed to create a culture that will support their success.

    Don't get me wrong, I think diversity is an ethical issue – but like technology, it's also an important tool for achieving real-world business objectives. Articulating your business goals will make it easier to keep your "eye on the prize" when times get rough. And they will. Adding new cultures, opinions, and coalitions into the mix always create tension. By articulating how diversity will help you achieve your business goals, you will ensure that everyone in the organization understands the rationale for your new hiring decisions and outreach activities.

  3. Map your network. Once you know the business goals you are trying to achieve, map your network. Figure out who you know (and who you need to meet) and who can enhance the diversity in your network. Don't forget to include your entire community in this research, e.g. staff, volunteers, coalition partners, board members, and donors. After doing this research, you are likely to find connections you didn't know existed. This will help you gain the confidence you need to reach out to new groups. As any good marketer knows, the messenger is often more important than the message.

    Mapping your whole network is important. A few weeks ago I spoke to a charter school that serves mostly minority kids. They were worried about a recent exodus of black teachers. I asked if they were talking to the parents about their challenges. My hypothesis: Brown kids often have brown parents and these stakeholders are keenly interested in the school's success! It turns out that the organization was not including parents in key conversation about the diversity challenges at the school because they didn't consider the parents key members of their formal network! This is a mistake because minority parents are likely to be a great resource for suggesting programmatic changes, which support black teachers and making new teacher referrals.

  4. Get educated. This may sound obvious, but you should spend time learning about the people you want to meet. Where do they hang out online – Facebook, MiGente, or Black Planet? What blogs do they read? Do they read blogs at all? What do they care about, listen to, and hate? This information is critical to understanding how, when, and why to reach them. It will also help to build a bridge of understanding between your organizations.
  5. Hire diverse staff! Note: Hiring diverse staff is the LAST item on this to-do list. This is because without establishing concrete goals for diversity, mapping your network, and educating yourself and your team, you are unlikely to succeed! Best case, your expectations of your newly minted staff will be misaligned with your goals. Worst case, you may turn your new staff of color into tokens.

As marketers, it's very hard to get new audiences to know, like, and trust us. But this is our job. By establishing our goals, understanding the true value of diversity, engaging all constituents in the outreach process, and hiring diverse staff, we can achieve our business goals and create a richer working environment. The changing demographics of our country provide a great opportunity for all nonprofits to undertake this meaningful and productive work.

For more information on this topic, check out the resources below:

Jocelyn is passionate about helping nonprofits succeed online so that they can change the world! At Care2 she is responsible for connecting charitable organizations to Care2’s 15 million + members and helping them to acquire new donors, members and advocacy supporters online. Prior to joining Care2, Jocelyn was Director of Business Development for Infogroup Nonprofit where she was responsible for sales, marketing and new product development. You can connect with her at or @jocelynharmon on Twitter.