Stop talking about diversity

by Derwin Dubose

At Armstrong McGuire, we're known for sharing coffee to help people think through nonprofit issues, but I have one request: please don't call me to have a conversation about "diversity." Instead, let's talk about cultural competence.

Our nation is demographically different. Last year, more children of color were born than white children, starting a huge shift leading to 2042, when people of color will become the majority of the United States population. PolicyLink, one of my favorite think tanks, provides an excellent time progression map of our demographic changes.

In light of these changes, human services nonprofits should not be discussing diversity anymore, but we should be embracing cultural competence--an ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds.

Take this quick Cultural Competence Quiz to see if your organization is responding to the New Majority:

  • Does your board and staff represent the demographics of the area you serve? This is the basic "diversity" question with which most nonprofits focus on and struggle with. However, it's not enough to have diverse people on your board.
  • Do people of color have substantive roles in your organization? Are your employees of color in leadership roles that allow them to set strategy and manage budgets? Are your board members of color on the executive committee?
  • Do you allow the people you serve to give you feedback? I'm not talking about a Survey Monkey or something impersonal. Is there a formal forum in which your clients can give you constructive feedback? Have you ever organized a focus group or a Client Advisory Board? Are those you serve represented on your board?
  • Do you engage donors of color?  There are obvious gaps in wealth in our country, but few organizations engage successful minority businesspeople and philanthropists in their work.
  • Do you effectively handle cultural conflict? If a donor, board member, employee, or client of color has a concern about the organization's practices or strategies, will the concerns be taken seriously? Will you take action? Will actions be taken to make that person feel comfortable after airing concerns?

How did you score? By truly engaging communities of color in all levels of your organization, you'll not only become prepared for the country's changing demographics, but you will also tap new fundraising markets. African Americans, for example, contribute more than $11 billion in charitable contributions, and similar statistics have been recorded for Asian Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Arab Americans.

So let's have that cup of coffee, but instead of "diversity," let's talk about how we can move your organization to a new model of cultural competence.

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