Nonprofit leadership is in trouble.

A study conducted by Commongood Careers and the Level Playing Field Institute reports that the majority of employees in the nonprofit sector acknowledge their organizations have expressed that diversity is an essential value to management. However, only 25 percent of the study participants agreed that diversity and inclusion practices are actively implemented by their organization.

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, 43 percent of new entrants to the workforce will be people of color in coming years.

Currently, nonprofit employees are approximately 82 percent white, ten percent African American, five percent Hispanic/Latino, three percent other, and only one percent Asian/Pacific Islander. Employees of color make up about 14 percent of leadership or upper management roles, and less than six percent of specialized positions.

Why is our sector, our sector so supposedly devoted to diversity, social justice, equality, STILL lagging behind when it comes to hiring people of color for nonprofit leadership positions?


Makani Themba-Nixon, Executive Director of the Praxis Project


Are you wondering why you “just can’t find any good candidates” for that fundraising job?

Are you also wondering why the leadership of the sector is so… white?

It’s time to do something about unconscious biases in hiring practices.

It’s time to do something radical.







In the 70s, professional orchestras decided they needed to hire more women, so they came up with the idea of closed auditions, or blind auditions, where the players played behind a screen, and the hiring people just listened. Lo and behold, more women started getting hired to play in orchestras.

How can you take the concept of the blind audition into your nonprofit?


Do what some Silicon Valley startups have started doing.

Eric Ries, author of Lean Startup, has started using this practice during hiring, and the results surprised him. This one simple hiring practice has allowed more diversity in candidate interviews.


Don’t tell the people doing the hiring anything about their race/ethnicity, age or gender.

Blackout anything on their resume that gives you a clue as to their gender or race.

I know that my resume, for example, would have to black out most of the names of my books, which is laughable.

Once you do this, you’ll see a lot more diversity in your interview pool.


But what about after you interview people?

“Twenty-seven percent of participants in the Commongood Careers and Level Playing Field Institute study report that they left a job due to lack of diversity and inclusiveness, with 64 percent of these respondents identifying as people of color.” – Julie Hayes, in her article, Is the Nonprofit Sector Doing Enough for Diversity? from the Profiles in Diversity Journal.

One commenter writes: “Ries may have found a way around “sensitivity” or diversity training by blacking out names or any references to the gender/race of the applicants, but what happens after they’re hired?

These new employees are still going into a work culture that has been (and still is) created and controlled by white men.

Does Ries assume that the current work culture in startup communities actually resonates or relates to these new, diverse employees?

This is why Silicon Valley could still use a little dose of diversity training. Getting employed is one thing, but feeling like you belong, matter, or have an impact on your job as someone who is not white/male is another.”

You can’t stop hiring bias during or after the interview.


How can you commit to better diversity training once people are hired? How can you make sure a new hire feels comfortable in a white-male dominated workplace?

Beth Ann Locke and I were chatting recently and she said that at some nonprofits she used to work at, they would have diversity training twice a year. White men and women were forced to look at their biases, at their privilege, and start to understand more about other cultures. She said this was the only way she saw nonprofits consistently address the issue of creating more respect for other people’s cultures in the workplace.

What about you? What would you suggest to improve the diversity of nonprofit leadership?