Diversity helps nonprofits accomplish more when staff from different backgrounds can connect

Brad R. Fulton, Associate Professor of Nonprofit Management at Indiana University shares how diverse nonprofits can accomplish more.

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The big idea

Increasing staff diversity does not automatically make a nonprofit more effective. But such organizations can benefit from that change if they can help their employees learn how to acknowledge and talk about their social differences.

This is what I found when I analyzed data on the race, class, gender and religion of the leadership team members of 178 organizations engaged in community organizing across the country. I measured effectiveness in several ways, including how many times the groups secured meetings with public officials, how many different organizing tactics they used, whether they collaborated with other nonprofits working on similar issues and how many people took part in their events.

My analysis focused on organizations that were sufficiently diverse, as defined by a metric pioneered in the 1970s by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a sociology-trained business researcher. An organization’s leadership team is sufficiently diverse along a particular social dimension, by this measure, when at least two groups represent at least 20% of the team.

There was a range, however. For example, one organization in Illinois was 50% Black and 50% white, while an organization in Texas was 10% Asian, 30% Black, 20% Latino and 40% white. The nonprofits also varied in terms of how they were diverse. Some had substantial religious diversity but minimal gender diversity. Others were diverse along multiple dimensions.

The groups that not only had diverse teams but whose leaders and staff also regularly talked about their racial, class, gender and religious differences with their colleagues were more successful overall. They were better able to mobilize their volunteers, forge alliances with other groups and secure meetings with public officials to further their goals.

I also saw that the types of interactions made a difference.

Socializing and doing group activities, such as sharing meals, serving others, playing games and even singing songs, helped these groups maximize their effectiveness in reaching their goals. That was particularly true when the events gave the leaders and staff opportunities to highlight characteristics of their culture or community.

For example, it helped if they could experience the different ways their colleagues celebrate birthdays and particular holidays. And when the nonprofits encouraged overtures to connect across race, class, gender and religious lines, their staff became more invested in one another and in their work.

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Nonprofits are seeking to diversify their leadership. (Photo by on Pexels.)

Why it matters

The organizations I studied, as well as nonprofits in general, are becoming more diverse. For example, the percentage of nonprofit leaders of color is increasing, albeit slowly.

Pressure to increase diversity is coming from funders, advocacy organizations and many communities. This is a response to the heightened attention focused on racial injustices, growing economic inequality, sustained gender inequities and increasing religious pluralism.

Yet as nonprofits become more diverse, many leaders and staff tiptoe around talking about their differences. Some of them claim they “don’t see color” or want to emphasize only what they have in common with others from different backgrounds.

Becoming more diverse, however, is not an end in itself. My research suggests nonprofits need to learn to understand, value and utilize their diverse perspectives to become more equitable and effective.

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What’s next

My study was based primarily on survey data. To gain more detailed insights about the impact of diversity within nonprofits, I’ve teamed up with Matthew Baggetta, a sociologist. We’re gathering observational data on how members interact with one another and engage their social differences, starting with a 15-month pilot study in which we observed nearly 100 meetings held by three organizations in Indianapolis.

Among other things, we documented which members interacted with whom, the context of their interactions and what they talked about. Next, we will carefully examine the interactions of group members across lines of difference and how those interactions affect the organizations’ outcomes.

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Brad R. Fulton, Associate Professor of Nonprofit Management, Indiana University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Impact Consulting LLC a Latina-owned firm aims at disrupting leadership status-quo

Lucy Sorrentini is the founder and CEO of Impact Consulting LLC, a management consulting firm that focuses on disrupting the status-quo in leadership diverse representation.


Lucy Sorrentini with Impact Consulting LLC team, a management consulting boutique firm that aims at disrupting the status-quo of leadership diversity

The firm designs and executes programs for women and multicultural professionals, offering organizational development and talent consulting services, professional and leadership development training and executive and small group coaching services.

Lucy created her consulting firm after more than 20 years in corporate executive human resource roles, most recently as Diversity & Inclusion Leader at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Throughout her years working in the corporate world, she witnessed a lack of diversity in leadership roles and the many challenges and struggles women and multicultural individuals faced. As a corporate leader herself, Lucy felt compelled to use her position and resources to help others.

Lucy’s strong feminine role model in leadership


Lucy Sorrentini, founder and CEO at Impact Consulting LLC

A Puerto Rican Latina born and raised in the South Bronx, Lucy grew up surrounded by strong hardworking individuals, her biggest inspiration being her mother. Widowed at 33 and left to raise seven children, Lucy’s mother worked long hours as a bodega owner.

“Never once did I see her complain about having to work 12 to 14 hour shifts 7 days a week,” Lucy shared. “By far she was one of the most resilient women I have ever met.”

Lucy’s childhood and upbringing formed her strong passion for helping others and her devotion to her fellow “sisters.” As a young girl she loved to volunteer at church and community events. Her experiences growing up in a women-centered household and attending both an all-girls high school and all-women’s college showed her the benefits of being part of a “sisterhood.” These experiences also revealed the challenges faced by smart, talented, and caring women.

“I’ve always had the aspiration to start a venture of my own and I always knew it would be in a space that empowered women and girls.”

Once she entered the corporate world, Lucy used her influence to raise awareness of the conscious and unconscious biases that stood in the way of equal opportunity and advancement of minorities in leadership and she also worked to improve businesses and human resource systems.

These issues were only one part of the problem though. What Lucy began noticing was that many diverse potential leaders were “opting out” of leadership and not because they weren’t qualified or interested.

“They did not feel valued for being themselves,” Lucy explained, “and they did not want to compromise their authenticity for the sake of advancing to the next level.”

It was then that Lucy had a “light-bulb moment” which prompted her decision to create her own firm focused exclusively on solving these issues.  

Trials and tribulations of a Latina entrepreneur


Lucy Sorrentini is an active advocate for women and other minority individuals thorugh Diversity & Inclusion, Leadership Development and Executive Coaching strategies and solutions.

Her entrepreneurial journey has been both challenging and rewarding. The biggest initial challenge for Lucy was translating her plan and mission into a sustainable and profitable business.

“I underestimated the level of effort that comes with being an entrepreneur,” she said. “Although I was prepared with knowledge, expertise, solid networks, and capital funding, I did not think through all the details involved with going from business plan to execution.”

She participated in Goldman Sachs 10K and Tory Burch Small Business Programs for early start businesses, which helped Lucy rethink and further develop her business and move past these challenges.

Main strengths that also helped set her apart from others are her values based leadership, expertise, and results with impact.

Her biggest advice is to know your client and be clear on what problem you are solving for them. “I work diligently to support the values of clients and make the client’s mission, my mission.”

Her expertise in the field allows her to deliver solutions with the maximum impact to her clients and she is focused on results. “Strategy without implementation is just as bad as implementation without strategy. My experience brings both to my clients in a way that is achievable, measurable, and sustainable.”

Not everyone starting out has the years of experience that Lucy does, but she recommends to look at those who came before you and have achieved success and study their methods.

“Expand your network and sphere of influence to include others who will provide you with feedback and support you on your entrepreneurial journey.”

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Lastly she hopes others take the time to enjoy the journey. “Always remember why it is that you went into business for yourself in the first place. This will by far be one of the most challenging and exciting times of your life!”

Lucy holds an Executive MBA from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, and a B.S. from the College of New Rochelle in New York. She is a Certified Coach with the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching and the Myers Briggs Foundation.