Tag: diversity

This article was originally published on the Nonprofit With Balls blog in April 2015. It is republished here with permission.

Hi everyone, I just returned from giving a keynote speech in at the Chatham-Kent Nonprofit Network‘s annual conference (in Ontario Canada) called “We Are Unicorns: Why Nonprofit Peeps are Awesome, Magnificent, and Downright Sexy.” It was an easy speech to give, since we are all those things, and our sector is kicking some serious butts. Just look at this article in Forbes that says we are more “poised for the future than either business or government.” And this report that shows we have been growing jobs at a rate of 2.1% while businesses have been losing them at a rate of .06%. In light of this, I recommend we all go home early today and bake some unicorn-shaped cookies to celebrate.

However, since we are adding so many jobs, we need to now focus more attention on our hiring practices, which, unfortunately, are often medieval, short-term-focused, and inequitable. We have been relying heavily on the for-profit world’s hiring model, which has not been aligned with our sector-wide values of equity and community. It leaves out too many good people, and it is time that we as a field examine and change how we hire people. Here are some weaknesses of the hiring process for us all to reflect upon while we eat our unicorn cookies.

We have an over-reliance on formal education.

Tons of amazing candidates, for whatever reason, often because they are poor or they are from disadvantaged communities or both, or because they creatively cannot conform to our rigid education system, could not complete their formal education, but they have gained experience and skills and have incredible versatility. Education inequity is one of those things we as a sector are trying to address, yet ironically we use education as a barrier in hiring. Until we reach a state where everyone, regardless of income and background and learning style, can get a college degree, using formal education as a requirement risks leaving out otherwise well-qualified candidates. This is not to say that we should not consider formal education, but that we shouldn’t use it as a means to instantly eliminate people.

We have myriad gate-keeping factors.

A colleague once told me, “I go through people’s resumes. If I see a single typo, it goes straight into the no pile.” And I thought, “Yeah, those no-good lazy bums who don’t bother to proofread!” But let’s think about all the great candidates whose first language is not English; their perspective and ability to speak a second or third language should more than make up for the occasional mistake in English. And as much as I appreciate hand-written thank-you notes after interviews, I know that not everyone from every culture has been trained to do this. Let’s not be so hasty to dismiss people based on rules that were written ancient years ago.

We focus too much on the short-term.

Since so many of us are “building the plane as we’re flying it,” we too often focus on hiring people for the immediate challenges, and not for long-term goals. This is why I see so many organizations where there is little or no diversity on staff. This is alarming if a huge portion of their clients is diverse. The excuse that “we couldn’t find anyone from diverse communities who was qualified to start right away” is narrow-sighted. Most of us have three or five-year strategic plans detailing stuff we need to invest in now so that they’ll pay off in the future. We need to start thinking of hiring in the same way, and ask ourselves if a candidate will be a smart investment not just for the next few months, but for several years down the road. The right candidates may not be the best fit in the short-term, but with enough training and support, they will be instrumental to the organization in the future.

Dilbert cartoon: Google engineer

We look down on people from our own field.

For some reason, maybe because of our own inferiority complex (see “The nonprofit inferiority complex is not sexy”), we seem to think people from outside our sector have a better grasp on our work than we do. This is why we keep seeing business people taking on major nonprofit leadership roles, though they have never had any experience in the sector besides serving on a board. A colleague and reader recently sent me a job posting from a major nonprofit consulting group seeking a senior consultant. This is an influential group whose research and recommendations affect the nonprofit sector. Among the required qualifications are “Three years or more of consulting experience” and “Graduate degree from a leading institution. (MBA, MPP, PhD, JD).” Really? So basically, I would not qualify for this position, whose main function is to advise nonprofits, because even though I’ve been running nonprofits for a decade, I haven’t had three years of consulting experience, and my lowly Master of Social Work is probably not from a “leading institution.”

The Consequences

The way we hire has to change. The consequences of poor hiring affect not just our own organization, but the entire nonprofit sector:

We leave out voices from communities that are most affected.

Current hiring practices leave out people who are most affected in favor of people who are adept at playing the HR game. This is intrinsically wrong, as I’ve written about in “Are you or your org guilty of trickle-down community engagement” and other posts. The communities who are most affected by inequity must be leading the efforts to address it, and our hiring practices must pave the way for this, not actively prevent it.

We reinforce dominant, often ineffective perspectives.

Without diverse voices, we are stuck talking about the same problems in the same ways, which often means just blah blah and fakequity. It’s slightly terrifying to think that the JDs and MBAs from “leading institutions” are going to be writing white papers suggesting what we nonprofits should be doing sector-wide.Dilbert: marketing resume

We drive talented people out of the community or profession.

Recently I met a person who was whip smart, compassionate, dedicated, and experienced. But despite having numerous connections with other professionals in the sector, all of whom unanimously think she’s awesome and gets stuff done, due to her lack of a formal degree, no one would hire her at a pay where she can actually survive. This talented, passionate, community-driven person must now think of selling her house in a town she grew up in and wants to contribute to, and move to another city. Unfortunately, this is only one of many examples of good people we are losing because of our rigid hiring rules.

Stuff We Need To Do

It is people who drive the work in our sector, and finding and keeping the right people is critical to our success. We nonprofits are not the same as the for-profit sector and shouldn’t be emulating the business model. We should learn from it, yes, but we cannot lose the elements that make us so awesome and separate us out from the other sectors—our unique focus on equity, on community, on giving people a chance. The archaic hiring model, which we copied from the for-profit world, with its punitive and inequitable barriers, has to change. Finding the “right” person can no longer be about who writes the best resume and cover, dresses in a suit, gives us answers we are trained to like on interviews, and write a handwritten thank-you note. Here are some things we need to do to make hiring more equitable, and thus, more effective:

Take the time.

Finding the right candidate takes a considerable investment in time. Because of the time crunch, we come up with shortcuts to expedite the hiring process, and these short-cuts are often inequitable. Let’s slow down when we can and take the time to write a proper job posting, recruit the right people onto the hiring panel, do proper outreach, and get to know the applicants.

Discuss equity with your hiring team.

Because of liabilities, we train our teams on questions that are legal and illegal. But we rarely talk about equity and how it affects our processes and decisions.

Hire for passion and dedication.

It is far easier to find someone who is passionate and willing to learn and teach them the required skills, than to find skilled people and teach them to be passionate about stuff. This view is not new, but we neglect it all the same.

Dilbert: compensation

Change the philosophy and definition of “qualification.”

Qualification should be based on whether a person will do a good job or not in the position. Since we

can’t know for sure if they will, we use proxy characteristics, such as formal education, as a predictor of performance. But formal education, as mentioned above, leaves behind a lot of people. Set it in the “Preferred” section if you have to use it. This opens up doors for people who have equivalent working experience.

Simplify the process.

Really, do you need a ten-page application and four rounds of interviews? As burdensome grant applications are inequitable and leave behind organizations led by diverse communities, burdensome hiring processes are inequitable and may leave behind good candidates.

Get rid of instant disqualifiers.

Although none of us are perfect, for some reason we expect job candidates to be. We seek imperfection and use it as an excuse to disqualify people. This would not be a problem if everyone had the same culture, upbringing, education, training, mentorship, etc. Eliminating candidates simply because their resume and cover are not the best increases the chance that you will miss out on diversifying your team.

Think long-term potential.

Think about the ideal team you want to have in the future and whether candidates who do not have the skills now will, with support and mentorship, be an awesome team-member later on.

Finally, be supportive and encouraging of candidates as they apply.

I’ve seen too many hiring teams treat candidates like crap. These are people who want to work to make the world better and are likely current or future leaders in our field. Be appreciative of their time, give constructive feedback, and help connect them to other opportunities as relevant. Use the hiring process as another way to build community and strengthen our sector.


Taking all these steps will take time and resources, and it still doesn’t guarantee an awesome hire. But applying principles of equity to hiring will not only move our individual organization, but our sector and profession forward. Let me know your thoughts.


For this month’s Connect theme, a number of speakers are previewing the great breakout sessions they are preparing for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, TX March 4-6. Following is a preview of one of over 100 breakout sessions.

Let’s face it: we are living in a world of followers, friends, and instant feedback. Nonprofits and for-profits alike are competing to be heard in a world that can’t stop screaming online. So how do you break through the noise and develop a captive diverse audience? It’s as simple as 1-2-3.


1. Understand that the world is watching.

According to Business Insider, Twitter had over 232 million users prior to its IPO in 2013; Facebook, not to be outdone, boasts over 1.23 billion monthly active users with a majority of users accessing the site through a mobile device. This means thatone out of every seven human beings on the planet has a social media account! It’s important to get an understanding of not just your target audience but your global audience as well.

Since the world is watching, be sensitive to all the jargon, slang, and modern vernacular you use. The English language is a tough language, but it can be successful to draw in a new, diverse audience.  The late, great ESPN sports broadcaster, Stuart Scott, was able to capture an audience by bringing his cultural vernacular to the sportscasting booth with phrases like, “Just call him butter, ‘cause he’s on a roll.” While vernacular like this can draw in people who understand it, it can also confuse those who don’t. There were two musicians working together: Noel Park, who is Korean; and Nikki Lerner, who is African-American. When they finished playing, Lerner said, “That was solid.” Park became confused. He thought she said, “That was salad” and thought maybe she meant that the music was fresh. When Park shared this Lerner, they both laughed and learned a lesson. The lesson learned was to explain slang whenever possible so that everyone is included in your conversation.  Applying this concept to your social media posts will ensure people don’t have to go to Wikipedia to try to figure out what you meant. Embrace the fact that a diverse group of individuals will be able to view your social media messages and use this to your benefit to increase awareness and donor support.


2. Understand that everyone should be represented.

In a recent conversation regarding our upcoming presentation on diversity in social media at the 2015 NonProfit Technology Conference, Sara Eastham of Bridgeway Community Church encouraged us to remember that, “What you reflect is what you attract.” If you want to attract a diverse group of people, then don’t post a picture of people who are all Caucasian, or all African-American, or all Asian. Post a picture of a person from each of those cultures together.

If you prepare Italian food, then you may attract Italian people. If you prepare Filipino food, then you may attract Filipino people. But if you are preparing a meal for a diverse group of people, than you will probably prepare one main dish that everyone can enjoy and side dishes that are specific to each culture. That way, everyone has at least one dish they are comfortable with while also having the opportunity to get a taste of cuisine from cultures that are different than their own. We should make sure everyone is represented at the tables of our lives and the tables of our organizations. Identify a unique example of a “main dish” value in your organization that many cultures share. Doing this will develop messaging that focuses on core values that a diverse group of individuals can believe in, and you’ll find yourself having a larger network of individuals in your support group than you would have ever imagined.


3. Understand that intentionality is key.

“We accelerate what we celebrate,” says Bridgeway Community Church CFO, Tim Samuel. With that in mind, intentionally plan to celebrate the diversity you currently have as well as the growth you make towards more diversity. Take, for example, the Maryland Association of CPAs (MACPA), a member association working hard on issues of equality, diversity, and inclusion in the accounting profession. A group of diverse individuals in the profession got together with the MACPA to plan the state’s first Women to Watch award event. The event sold out as people packed into the room to watch the MACPA reward and honor women leaders. Since that event, the MACPA has taken to social media to build on the momentum from the event.  They blogged, placed pictures of the award winners in their promotional materials, and used social media to celebrate these amazing women in the accounting profession.  They broke through their typical audience and now are able to collaborate with an even more diverse audience to help the CPA profession.   It’s a simple but really effective concept when working on issues of diversity.  Let’s celebrate our beauty!

If you want to build bridges and establish a global social network, it’s important to be intentional about answering the following questions:

  1. Who do we want to hear/see/react to our message?
  2. Who might hear/see/react to our message?
  3. How will we judge the effectiveness of our message?  Intentionally infusing values that resonate with various demographics will help your social media efforts tremendously.

Got questions about how to reach a larger audience through social media? Join Sara, Tim, and Joey as we present “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: How to amplify your message through a diverse team” on Thursday, March 5 at 1:30pm. Want to connect with us sooner? Shoot us an email or tweet and we’d be happy to engage with you!

Who isn’t interested in doing a great job maximizing mobile for diverse demographics? It’s important! It’s still not easy reaching around the world, but we’ve taken a whack at it in 2014 and want to share some successes and lessons learned.

In NTEN’s September Connect, we shared recommendations on maximizing mobile. Now we’d like to give you an update and share what we learned about global mobile engagement — a sequel, if you will — from a major international campaign we ran together with the Varkey GEMS Foundation based in London. The Global Teacher Prize is a prestigious, new Nobel-style prize that seeks to celebrate innovative, world-class teaching by inviting K-12 teachers from around the world to share their stories and experience from their classrooms. You may have seen the featured piece in October, “The search for the million dollar teacher.”

Our task was to reach around the world digitally to find the best teachers and encourage them to apply for the $1 million prize. We sought to inspire their communities to nominate teachers and follow up with the teachers to apply for the prize. A large percentage of the world accesses the Internet via mobile, whether because they are on the go or because they don’t have a computer at home. So we worked with Varkey GEMS to ensure that the campaign was as mobile-friendly as possible. As a result, we attracted visitors from nearly every country in the world and received applications for the prize from 127 countries.

Now here’s what you’ve been waiting for: our top 10 tips for you based on what we’ve learned from this campaign.

  1. Make social media your top priority for promotion: Facebook posts were the most effective in getting and keeping audience attention. Facebook generated the most acquisition in terms of views and applications. Google Analytics showed that our top five referrals were from social media. Story-based content plus highlights on influencers or celebrities outperformed more generalized content on social media. Close-up images of people outperformed images framed farther; images are also more mobile-friendly close up. And shorter messages or messages broken into shorter paragraphs outperformed longer paragraphs. We adjusted to a lighter messaging tone and imagery over the course of the campaign, which made the content more approachable to teachers, who are often humble about their hard work in classrooms. Thirty percent of Facebook users only access the site via mobile, according to a recent study, and over 1 billion people access Facebook on their mobile phones each month. Knowing this, social media was key to our global outreach strategy.
  2. Speak in tongues: Multilingual outreach helps build trust and reach people in a language with which they are comfortable. We translated the website into six languages (English, Arabic, Spanish, French, Russian, and Chinese), created social visual content that’s optimal for mobile viewing by international audiences, created messaging that focused on diverse individuals, highlighted their success from around the world, and published Google Ads in other languages, such as Spanish.
  3. Create a budget for social ads: Facebook ads were our best friend because of the importance that Facebook now places on social ads in their algorithm to reach your Fans and Friends of Fans. 62% of Facebook’s revenues now come from mobile ads, so even at low dollar amounts, ads are now critical to any strategy. We were able to reach a highly targeted and low-cost teacher audience on Facebook using Power Editor.
  4. Develop mobile-friendly landing pages: We lowered the website bounce rate by improving mobile-friendliness. Every second counts because people interact differently from mobile than they would from a desktop. Headlines and copy should be short. Think minimal, with white space as your friend. The Call to Action should be immediately visible.
  5. Use mobile texting (SMS): TextMagic.com brought our messages to teachers’ cell phones around the world at a reasonable cost in the last month of the campaign to send friendly reminders to complete the application. Sometimes nominees entered mobile phone information inconsistently (e.g., missing country or regional codes), making preparation for text messaging time-intensive. Your mobile phone field should guide people to enter their country code and leave out a zero in front.
  6. Don’t forget about email—it’s still relevant: People who searched on Google and who discovered the Global Teacher Prize through email tended to stay on the website longer than those who discovered the prize through social media. The number of returning visitors increased in frequency towards the end of the campaign, because of our coordinated email and SMS mobile texting efforts targeting partially completed applicants. As noted in the M+R and NTEN 2014 Nonprofit Benchmarks Study, nonprofit organization email lists still have strong growth—up 14% in 2013. Although key email metrics, including open rates and response rates, have declined while social media audiences have grown rapidly, for every 1,000 email subscribers nonprofits had just 199 Facebook fans and 110 Twitter followers. Your email list has great potential for reaching both mobile & desktop users—do you ever check your email while waiting in line or for a friend? Be sure to make those emails mobile-friendly.
  7. Test your keywords to find the winners: Via testing on Google Grant Ads, which give nonprofits $333 worth of ads per day free ($10,000 per month), we found that “maestro” (Spanish for teacher) was an important keyword in reaching new audience members and that “school teacher” kept our audience on the website longer than other keywords. What keywords work best for you? Google Grant Ads offer an important opportunity to reach new audiences, test messaging, and build a supporter base for free (except for the work involved!). Include a call-to-action phrase and use keywords that get the highest number of clicks or impressions, especially in the ad title. Ads on Facebook and Twitter are also an effective way to reach a large number of people quickly and test what words and imagery work best. Check the stats to see which ads are performing best and figure out why so you can replicate success.
  8. Check the metrics like a data lover: Be metrics-driven and data-informed to know what content and imagery are working best. Use tagged links (you can create them with the Google URL Builder tool) to track where your conversions are coming from (e.g. social media or email) and, more granularly, what type of content. We could see a diverse user group represented in our visitors, with lighthearted and humorous content outperforming other content. Learning that, we leaned in on the “fun stuff.” A week-by-week spreadsheet showed growth over time along the array of metrics that we cared most about. On a weekly, biweekly, or monthly basis, take an in-depth overview of your metrics so you know what’s working best (and least) to optimize outreach.
  9. Create an editorial calendar: Celebrate special dates that matter to the audience you’re working to reach by planning ahead with a calendar and also checking news feeds to see what similar organizations are celebrating in the moment. You can tap into the wider cultural zeitgeist and reach more people more easily with events that unite the world. We incorporated large international events, such as the World Cup, to reach a broad global audience and generate buzz, and days like World Teachers’ Day to reach our primary target. Event-based images will likely outperform your posts that are not connected to wider events.
  10. Tap allies, partners, influencers, and bloggers: Who are the influencers your audience trusts and to whom do they look for advice and opportunities? When you reach out to these potential allies to support your work, do it with a friendly note that’s as short as possible. Consider including a ready-to-go tweet or two (sample text with shortened link and mention of your Twitter handle, or a link with tweet using something like ClicktoTweet.com). The Global Teacher Prize gained invaluable support from big teacher-focused sites like Edutopia sharing the prize on their big list of grants and resources, and from enthusiastic teacher-bloggers with large followings.

Good luck! We hope this helps you mobilize with mobile.

According to Albert Einstein, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” To his point, there are many people who are brilliant but aren’t encouraged to see themselves as such. At the core of the iUrban Teen programs is the desire to create opportunities and environments where youth can find, appreciate, and grow their genius. We do this by exposing youth to careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Art (STEM and Arts) through experiential learning workshops.

Our intentional outreach is to male youth of color; however, we’re an inclusive program with a variety of youth participation that includes girls, youth with disabilities, and low-opportunity white youth.

We’ve recently started our youth-led iUrban Teen newsletter. The teens interview professionals in STEM-related careers about their career, what motivated them to go into that field, and what advice they have for the youth. The teens will also be writing about new technologies and devices in upcoming newsletters.Our flagship event is the Tech Summit, an all-day even where we invite industry professionals to lead workshops for the teens. Our other programs include STEM and Art Tours, where we tour local businesses and see how they implement STEM and the Arts; Youth Speaks, a public speaking collaboration with Toastmasters; iUrban Code, where teens learn the basics of HTML and CSS; and iUrban Digital, the art of telling stories with a variety of multimedia, including graphics, audio, video, and web publishing.

This fall, we launched our Tech Summit at both Mt. Hood Community College and the University of Washington Bothell; the Bothell Summit featured a gaming workshop lead by one of the developers of Halo. The students were so engaged that it was difficult to have them move on to their next workshop!

We’ve expanded our iUrban Code class from a one-weekend class to a four-weekend class and have partnered with Epicodus to deliver high-quality web development instruction. We’ll be starting “iMap” in January, which will be an experiential hands-on GIS/mapping course. In the coming year, we’ll be expanding to Los Angeles and will hold our first event there in January at California State University Dominguez Hills.

Also coming in 2015, we will be launching the Urban Spark Weekend, a twist on the “hackathon” or “codefest” where teens will come together do some immersive learning, code projects, win prizes, forge new friendships and, of course, enjoy some pizza and caffeine.

As the iUrban Teen program continues to grow from a grassroots organization that started in Vancouver, Washington to a soon-to-be-national program, we would like to thank our youth, volunteers, partners, sponsors, and the dynamic group of individuals on our advisory councils.

In particular, we’d like to recognize the parents. They are a major component of our success. We have made it a point to honor parents by inviting them in. We ask them to participate in sharing our programs with each other. We gladly accept the input on which programs they’d like for us to add. They volunteer at all of our events and share their school tips with each other at our parent roundtables. They even coordinate the youth-led newsletter. Thank you, parents, for all that you do!

We’ve had some great feedback that the program has created a difference in how parents are communicating with their teens. One parent who has two boys said: “Before, it was like pulling teeth to get the boys to talk about school and careers, but now we talk for hours about the possibilities.” That attitude of openness and possibility is exactly what we’re looking to continue to spread.

The iUrban Teen program has become more than just a STEM + Arts program — it’s grown into a new community, a movement. We’ll continue to add and expand programs to expose the teens to more fields. We’ll continue to surround the teens with great teachers, inspirational leaders, and creative thinkers. We’re completely committed to evolving the program to be better and better at helping teens imagine possibilities and get in touch with the genius that is already inside them.