How to Convince Non-Profit Senior Executives That Cultural Competency is a Necessary Prerequisite to Working with Communities of Color

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Carmen Van Kerckhove, president of workplace diversity education firm New Demographic (http://www.newdemographic.com), shares four steps non-profit professionals can take to convince senior management that their organization needs to work on cultural competency.

Many non-profit organizations meet resistance when they try to serve communities of color, in part because their staffs are predominantly white and not particularly well-versed in cultural competency.

Despite this fact, non-profit professionals often find it difficult to convince their senior leaders that it's necessary for the organization to become more aware of its hidden biases and inform itself about issues that matter to communities of color.

In the latest issue of her email newsletter Diversity Career Success, workplace diversity expert Carmen Van Kerckhove shares four steps that a person of color -- or a progressive white person -- can take to convince senior leaders that their non-profit organization needs to become more culturally competent.

"If you want an organization to work on race equity, you need to gain the support of the organization's senior leadership. Change doesn't happen unless the senior management is on board," says Van Kerckhove, president of workplace diversity education firm New Demographic (http://www.newdemographic.com).

1. Figure out what the organization's biggest strategic objectives are for the year.

Senior leaders are concerned about the legacy they'll be leaving when their tenure ends, so get curious and ask questions. What are the big projects or goals that the senior leaders keep harping on? Why are these things so important to them? What's in the annual report? What themes do senior leaders emphasize in their speeches, press releases, and newsletters?

2. Find out what criteria are used to evaluate the organization's performance by the people who fund it.

These criteria are the "target" that the senior leader is most concerned about hitting. Accomplishing them in a timely manner will be a reflection on his or her performance.

Most non-profits are funded through a combination of government grants and private contributions. These days, there are almost always strings attached to funding because there is such concern about holding non-profits accountable for delivering results. The job of a progressive insider is to find out what those strings are.

What expectations do the grantors and contributors have? On what criteria do they judge the performance of the non-profit? What specific metrics are used to judge? For example, is it the number of people reached by educational initiatives? Or the number of people enrolled in certain programs?

3. Tie diversity objectives to the organization's strategic objectives and key performance criteria.

Demonstrate how diversity can help achieve the leader's personal goals (strategic objectives) and help the non-profit reach its organizational goals based on the criteria given by the grantors and contributors.

Example: If a strategic objective is to increase the number of people a non-profit serves by a certain percentage or number, demonstrate why the organization is going to miss its target of reaching out to communities of color if it is perceived to be ignorant of the issues that resonate within the targeted community.

Another example: If one of the key criteria that grantors use to evaluate the organization's performance is the number of media mentions it receives, demonstrate how reaching out to ethnic press can help improve those numbers. Explain that the ethnic press isn't taking the organization seriously right now because it isn't informing itself on the basic issues that matter to people of color.

4. Start positioning yourself as an in-house expert

When the organization begins to view you as an authority on the topic of workplace diversity and cultural competency, the growing respect of senior leaders will provide you with wider influence, making it just that much easier to help the non-profit implement real changes

Here are some ideas on getting started:

  • Set up Google alerts with the right keywords and, on a weekly basis, email colleagues a round-up of links to that week's news stories which relate to race and mental illness.
  • Write a monthly or bi-monthly article on the key trends the organization should know as it relates to race and mental illness and publish it in the organization's internal blog or newsletter.
  • Lead a series of lunch 'n learn sessions in which a topic related to race and your organization's mission and goals are discussed. On occasion, invite local or regional guest experts on appropriate topics.

Carmen Van Kerckhove, president of the diversity education firm New Demographic, specializes in working with corporations to facilitate relaxed, authentic, and productive conversations about race. She has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, and has visited as a guest lecturer at Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, and many other colleges and universities across the country.

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