Considering Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in Nonprofits

4 min read
April 13, 2018
Alisha Johnson headshot
Alisha Johnson
Neon One

Did you miss our webinar on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in nonprofits? Don’t worry — we recorded it! And wrote up some of the major takeaways.


Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI): principled ideals that many nonprofits have increasingly added to their mission statements. But, what do these terms mean, and what does it mean to advance equity, pursue diversity, and foster inclusion at your organization? In fact, why is doing so important?

EDI Panel presenters: Desiree Adaway, Heidi Massey, Laurin Mayeno & J.W. Wiley

Desiree AdawayHeidi MasseyLaurin Mayeno, and J.W. Wiley are consultants experienced in working with organizations on issues of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. In this conversation, they shared their experiences in helping nonprofits and other organizations address EDI in their work.

In our time together, the panel addressed a series of questions about strategies for addressing EDI, the challenges they’ve faced, and breakthroughs they’ve seen working with organizations in various contexts. Additionally, they outlined practical steps for nonprofits (and individuals) to consider in their approach to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

Panelists’ responses were insightful and thought-provoking, and more importantly, they highlighted the need to move beyond thought to action if we are to affect change in ourselves and in society.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together.” – Aboriginal Activist Group, Queensland, 1970’s

The Highlights of the EDI Panel

What does EDI mean?

EDI means combines both community and communication – not making others come to us, but taking the initiative to meet marginalized communities where they are. It’s about building relationships.

Here are a few things to think through to help better define EDI for your organization:

  • Instead of creating safe spaces, it’s about fostering “Brave Spaces” for open and honest conversation.
  • Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion should move from transactional to something that is transformational.
  • Pursuing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion is not just about our acts, it is also about recognizing the implications of our failure to act.

What are the challenges and possibilities of focusing on EDI at a nonprofit?

In our respective work, we have to ask: “how are equity, justice, and opportunity brought into this institution?” Put that question at the center of your effort to focus on EDI at your nonprofit.

Other challenges and possibilities to work through this includes:

  • Nonprofits need to make sure that the work is in alignment with the organization’s mission.
  • Organizations must be willing to put forth resources, including money, time, and intention.
  • We have to understand that status does not equal “woke” — the ED needs to be a part of these conversations as much as the intern does.

Bias, Discrimination, and Privilege

“We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.” – Anias Nin

Let’s define a few of these terms:

  • Bias is prejudgment – in this context, it is tied to ideas of conformity and nonconformity to society’s norms. Discrimination is acting upon that bias.
  • Privilege is fitting within Society’s Norms and, therefore, being free from Discrimination and Bias based on nonconformity.
  • Privilege = When we benefit from Bias and Oppression

We have to understand patterns of bias and discrimination as a part of a larger system of oppression. It is not merely an individual concern, it is systemic.

How might nonprofits think about these ideas in terms of their broader missions?

“Be humble and ready to fumble.” – Desiree Adaway

It is your role as a nonprofit to connect these ideas to your broader mission. Here are some tips you can use to start doing that:

  • Recognize that this work is necessary if you want to stay relevant. Not having a strategy for engaging with an increasingly diverse society “will kill your organization.”
  • Listen: We must put ourselves in diverse spaces — there are opportunities to engage with marginalized communities everywhere.
  • Understand the difference between Equity and Equality — we don’t all have the same needs.
  • Do something: Commit to moving forward. Dedicate resources. Show up.


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