Best Practices: Diversity and Cultural Competence


By Diana Davenport, Vice President for Administration, The Commonwealth Fund

Each year the Nonprofit Excellence Awards Selection Committee pays special attention to diversity and cultural competence in its review of Award applications. While we have seen improvement over the years, the fact is that the committee has found this is a management practice where many organizations continue to struggle. The good news is that there are strong and replicable practices and outcomes among this year’s three winners and all six finalists worthy of highlighting for your information:

Hiring staff that reflects the community served

New York Foundling’s recruiting is focused on schools and professional associations where applicants reflect the diverse background of the organization’s clients. Interviews include an assessment of candidates’ perceptivity, versatility and cultural competence.

TNTP believes that diversity of all kinds is essential to a thriving organization. As part of a long-term focus on diversity and inclusion, TNTP articulated a set of diversity beliefs and goals to guide their work, reporting out semi-annually on progress to staff. It also established a Diversity Recruitment Committee to broaden outreach to potential candidates, and a Diversity Leadership Council to guide the organization’s efforts to develop and retain diverse talent.

Training staff to be inclusive

At New York Common Pantry, management strives to create a safe and welcoming environment for all visitors. Staff is trained to be sensitive to ethnic, racial, cultural, gender, sexual orientation, religious and immigrant related issues. All front line staff members complete a course on working with diverse populations offered through the Center for Urban Community Services. Senior Managers, Program Directors and other key staff take courses on diversity through the Society for Diversity. One Board member and key volunteer leaders have also taken Society for Diversity training, and NYCP will schedule further Board and volunteer opportunities during this fiscal year.

BRC provides training on cultural competency upon hire and annually thereafter to ensure that awareness is pervasive throughout the organization.  Building on a pilot evaluation with Johns Hopkins University, BRC developed  best practice guidelines for staff to achieve culturally appropriate interactions with clients.

Creating a diverse board

The board of America Needs You comprises 24 members, 43% of whom are leaders of color. The board’s nomination committee focuses on maintaining racial, ethnic, and gender diversity and is committed to recruiting members who reflect the population served.

Groundswell has a diverse staff, board, and teaching artist roster. This diversity is intrinsic to the organization’s mission of social and racial justice. Groundswell’s staff is 78% female and 64% people of color. The Board is 58% female and 50% people of color. Its artist roster is 51% female and 80% people of color. Three of Groundswell’s twelve board members and seven of its fourteen staff members are working artists. They also have a representation of former program participants. The organization actively recruits, promotes, and trains artists, staff members, and board members that reflect their constituencies. Board recruitment is guided through an annual board assessment that identifies gaps in membership, including professional expertise, age, gender, cultural background, and/or geographic diversity.


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