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Safeguarding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Progress Amid Budget Constraints

The pursuit of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is a cornerstone of creating thriving and impactful nonprofit organizations. However, in the face of budgetary limitations, maintaining and advancing DEI initiatives can pose unique challenges. Harvard Business Review recently published an article discussing how organizations, including nonprofits, can protect and strengthen their DEI progress even when budgets are tight. Today on the blog, we delve into key insights from the article and explore strategies that nonprofit leaders can employ to uphold their commitment to DEI.

Graphic design image of a diverse group of people

DEI initiatives are not mere initiatives – they are fundamental to building inclusive and high-performing organizations. It’s important to address the history of DEI (or lack thereof) in nonprofits. To put it plainly, this field is fairly soaked in white saviorism. We as a sector have a lengthy history of working to alleviate symptoms of the problem that is systemic racism without dismantling the systems themselves. Funding plays a major role in this. As explained masterfully in The Revolution Will Not be Funded, many major funding sources have at some point benefitted from the unfair or unequal treatment of people based on their race, gender, sexual identity, disability status, age, and more, (it’s probably related to how they became a major funding source,) and as such they haven’t wanted to help turn that system upside down. While times are finally changing, limited budgets are still a challenge that most organizations have to deal with. When financial constraints come into play, it's crucial to adopt innovative approaches that safeguard and fortify the progress made in creating diverse and equitable workplaces.

Key Insights:

Prioritize and Allocate Resources Strategically

Strategic allocation of resources is pivotal in safeguarding DEI progress. Nonprofit leaders should assess the most critical DEI initiatives and allocate resources where they can have the greatest impact. Every organization is on their own journey towards being a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workspace and it won’t happen overnight. Creating a strategy with a few key steps you can take each year or quarter will help make sure your investments in DEI are effective. For example, the HBR article mentions training hiring managers as one of the first steps they took; a couple years later their goal was providing access to professional development for emerging leaders that belong to a minority group. By focusing on high-priority areas, organizations can optimize limited resources and make meaningful advancements.

Embed DEI into Organizational DNA

DEI should be woven into the fabric of an organization's culture and operations. When budgets are tight, nonprofit leaders must ensure that DEI becomes an integral part of decision-making processes, from hiring practices to program development. This ensures that progress is not merely a checkbox but a sustainable practice. By incorporating DEI work into every project or role, it means that when the red pen comes out to edit the budget, the only DEI initiative or position is never on the chopping block. This also means that it is a collective responsibility, and as such everyone must be held accountable for fulfilling their portion of it.

Leverage Collaboration and Partnerships

Nonprofits can amplify their DEI efforts by collaborating with other organizations, both within and outside their sector. Partnering with like-minded entities can provide access to shared resources, expertise, and collective influence, enhancing the reach and impact of DEI initiatives. Examples of this can include bringing in DEI trainers or professional development resources for BIPOC or LGBTQ+ employees. If you’re looking to expand your programming to serve more diverse populations, there are likely organizations with existing relationships to those communities that could benefit from partnerships as well. Seeking out opportunities and creating mutually beneficial relationships with other organizations is of course a skill that will not only affect your DEI work, but that can open doors to endless possibilities.

Empower Employee-Led Initiatives

Nonprofit employees are often passionate advocates for DEI. Encourage and empower staff-led initiatives and affinity groups that promote inclusivity and drive change from within the organization. These grassroots efforts can have a profound impact on fostering a culture of diversity and equity, which can affect employee recruitment and engagement. According to a recent survey “80% of respondents said they want to work for a company that values DEI issues.” These initiatives are also simple to start and low cost, however it’s important to note that this should be just one aspect of an overall DEI strategy. If your organization’s entire strategy is based on volunteer-led initiatives it means it’s not a real priority – there needs to be real resources to back up your commitments.

Embrace Inclusive Leadership

Leadership that champions DEI from the top down is paramount. Nonprofit leaders should embody inclusive behaviors and set an example for the entire organization. Only “44 percent of organizations in a Traliant report say their executive team “owns” their DEI strategy,” despite it being consistently considered important across seniority levels. Take stock of your personal commitment to DEI - are you living your values? Educating yourself is always a good place to start. By modeling DEI principles, leaders inspire a culture of inclusion that extends to every facet of the nonprofit. This is one impactful step that you can take towards DEI progress amid budget constraints.

Evaluate and Adjust

Budget constraints require continuous evaluation and adjustment of DEI strategies. Nonprofit leaders should regularly assess the effectiveness of initiatives, gather feedback from stakeholders, and make data-driven decisions to refine their approach. When implemented successfully, DEI programs prove to be a worthwhile investment: Diverse teams have been shown to make better decisions and increase profitability in for-profit companies, as well as increase employee engagement and retention. Measuring success may look different at different points in time, depending on where each organization is in their DEI journey. Keep in mind that it is just that, a journey; and if ever a program isn’t as effective as anticipated, simply adjust course and try again, but don’t give up on the commitment to a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future.

In Conclusion

Budget constraints may pose challenges, but they should not deter organizations from their DEI journey. By strategically allocating resources, embedding DEI into the organizational fabric, fostering collaboration, empowering employees, embracing inclusive leadership, and maintaining a commitment to evaluation and adjustment, nonprofits can continue to make meaningful progress in creating diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplaces.

At CALO, we recognize the paramount importance of DEI in nonprofit organizations. Our peer advisory forums provide a supportive environment for nonprofit leaders to collaborate, exchange insights, and navigate challenges related to DEI and other critical aspects of organizational leadership. Together, let's harness the power of peer learning and innovation to protect and advance our DEI progress, even in the face of budgetary constraints, ensuring that our organizations truly reflect and champion the diverse communities we serve.

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