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5 Practices To Recruit Racially Diverse Nonprofit Leaders

Diversity is about more than just checking a box.

Nonprofit leaders are reexamining how they embed their commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion into their operations. Over the past few months, current and past clients have reached out to Good Insight to discuss how to build a team that better reflects the experiences and perspectives of the communities that they serve.

Our team has developed new resources for nonprofit leaders and boards to ensure their hiring process adds to a welcoming and inclusive workplace for people of all backgrounds. Download this checklist for 9 steps to take to create an equitable process.


Five Steps To Start Recruiting Diverse Leaders

Before we get started, please understand that this article is meant to strengthen weak spots in your hiring practices, but the strategies we discuss aren’t complete solutions for any nonprofit.

As research from the Building Movement Project’s Race to Lead series shows, the lack of diversity in the nonprofit workplace is not due to issues of qualifications or motivation of people of color; rather, it is the result of implicit bias, discrimination, and structural racism. Hiring one or two Black, Indigenous, or other people of color does not automatically address interpersonal, institutional, or systemic racism that has historically prevented advancement in the workplace.

If you or your organization are just beginning in the journey toward racial equity and justice, we encourage you to read Equity in the Center’s article, So You Want To Hire An Equity Consultant, about retaining a racial equity practitioner to support your learning agenda and action plan.

1. Reconsider How You Circulate the Announcement 

Look at the list of people that you sent your last job announcement to —– do the recipients reflect the composition that you seek from your applicants? If not, there’s work to do to expand your network.

We all have received that email: “There’s a new job opening at Tippy Toes Dance Academy, please share widely!”  But reports across different industries show that homogeneous networks negatively affect applicant diversity. If white leaders rely on networks that largely consist of other white leaders, the job opening only gets circulated among white people. These bubbles become a barrier to attracting racially diverse applicants. Take a hard look at the list of people you ask to help network job opportunities and work toward circulating it among a more diverse group.

Another tip: Are you using job boards geared toward racial affinity groups? For example, we recently learned about Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy, a membership association with an active job board. Seems like a great place to recruit top development talent!

2. Watch Your Tone. Focus on Inclusionary Language

Did you know that the language you use in your job postings can discourage qualified people from applying? Using inclusive language will help to get the highest number of applicants.

As recruiters, we spend a lot of time crafting compelling job announcements that presents the opportunity at hand and realistically outlines the skills, attributes, and expertise needed. Hiring is about identifying a mutually beneficial relationship for the organization and candidate. But some hiring managers don’t understand that they are in a buyer’s market (see our last post, Adapting to COVID realities for more).

Women make up the majority of the nonprofit workplace, yet we frequently see job postings using language that inadvertently excludes women from applying. Words and phrases are subtly biased, and research shows that women avoid masculine coded language. Words like “ambitious, aggressive, challenging, competitive, intellectual, strongly, targeted” are commonly associated with masculine traits, whereas “compassionate, collaborative, inclusive, responsive” have feminine associations. Run a recent job posting through this gender-decoder to see how welcoming your job description is to candidates who identify as female.

It’s also important for job postings to just state the minimum credentials or attributes needed. Many people won’t apply if they don’t meet 90% of a job announcement’s criteria. This is especially true among women, who are more likely than men to experience “Imposter Syndrome,” where they internalize doubt about their own capabilities and credentials.

Another tip: Don’t overstate education requirements. Does your job really require a Master’s Degree? Or a degree at all?

3. Include Salary Ranges on all Job Descriptions

Are you including salary ranges when you market a job opportunity? If not, you might be unintentionally closing the door on really great candidates.

Good Insight has a hard and fast rule — we won’t circulate a job description that doesn’t include the salary. Studies show that women, and particularly women of color, are paid a fraction of their male counterparts. Keeping salary information hidden perpetuates racial and gendered wage gaps.

Though many in the nonprofit sector claim to be committed to racial justice, our field’s lack of urgency around salary transparency reinforces racial disparities in our own workforce. Shortchanging wages affects generational wealth building, particularly within communities of color. It has lifelong impact on asset building, homeownership, student loan debt, retirement and social security benefits. We believe that hiding salary information runs counter to the societal inequities that our clients are trying to solve.

Employers should also know that there’s an entire segment of the employment market who will not pursue a job opportunity that doesn’t provide details on compensation. As one job-seeker explained to us, “Recruiters reach out to me about opportunities weekly, but I won’t even schedule a call unless they tell me the salary upfront. I know my worth, and I know the income I need to reach my goals. What I don’t know is if this potential employer will shortchange me because I’m a Black woman and not a white man.”

Some clients have shared that they prefer not to share salary ranges because they believe that they are too low to attract great candidates. Think about that!

It is extremely rare for someone, particularly at a leadership level, to take a job significantly below their economic needs. To help our clients reach the right candidates, we conduct compensation analysis for all executive searches, and encourage people to do internal analyses as well. If your salaries are far below market, it will continue to be a challenge to attract (and retain!) candidates.

4. Publicize Your Commitment To Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Is your website explicit about the steps your organization is taking to embed racial equity into your work? Are those steps evident to prospective candidates?

Many nonprofits have a largely white workforce and boards of directors, but exclusively serve communities of color. We often connect with prospective applicants that are explicit that they don’t want to be the “first or only,” referring to how many people of the same race or ethnicity are on the team. They are wary of potential employers’ commitments to diversity, and if they will be subject to a microaggressive or discriminatory team culture that creates a psychological toll on BIPOC staff.

Here are a few steps you can take to build this up:

  • Work with staff at different levels of the organization to develop a written statement of your organizational culture and add it to your job descriptions.
  • Write a blog post about how you are embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion practices into your operations and programming.
  • Evaluate your brand, images, and website content. Does it accurate reflect the work you’re doing? If not, it’s time to refresh things.

Another tip: An award-winning diversity expert and civil rights advocate, Mary-France Winters, Founder and CEO of The Winters Group, recently wrote Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Body, Mind, and Spirit — required reading for white people leading multiracial teams.

5. Start Thinking of “Culture Add” 

Are you focused on finding employees who would be a good “culture fit” for your organization? You might be missing out on important perspectives and attributes.

People tend to gravitate toward people who are like themselves in appearance, beliefs, and background. Affinity bias can be very subtle, as our brains have evolved to feel closer to people who are like us. This becomes a dangerous bias for hiring, when many members of your team are looking to hire someone that would “fit in.” When we base decisions on who we want to have lunch with, rather than the skills and experience they bring, we make decisions that uphold systems of racial and gender discrimination. Examine your interview protocol — when you ask candidates, “Tell me about yourself?” what are you actually looking for? Is it easier to relate to candidates who have a shared experiences with you?

YW Boston explains hiring committees should focus on “culture add” rather than “culture fit.” That is, what qualities does a candidate bring to move your organization in the right direction? This process requires an understanding of unconscious bias, and a clear sense of the perspectives that are missing that will take your organization to the next level. Beyond the hiring process, there also must be space to allow this new hire to be their authentic self at the workplace.

These Five Practices Are Just a Starting Point

Many organizations are putting the time in to create a workplace that fosters belonging and inclusion. This is an organizational journey, one that requires both personal and professional resources from everyone on your team. Good Insight recognizes more people need resources on this topic, and we’re pleased to have partnered with the Center for Nonprofit Advancement to present Recruiting Diverse Leaders, a workshop on how to embed these principles into your hiring practices.

We hope you’ll join our CEO, Carlyn Madden, and Talent Acquisition Specialist, Kessa Thompson, for a chance to learn more about how to make transformational changes in your nonprofit. Sign up for our Recruiting Diverse Leaders workshop below, or reach out to us at to set up a free consultation on how we can help you with your next hiring process.

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