April 11, 2013

You might think that this blog is about Republicans and elected officials. But this blog is about more than a Republican Party that fights so hard against “otherness,” those diverse people who experience lives differently. I’m afraid that this blog is about too many nonprofit organizations, too.

By now, I’m sure that pretty much everyone has heard about the G.O.P.’s “autopsy” about why they lost the U.S. presidential election. All about diversity. Yes, indeed.

Check out Charles M. Blow’s op-ed piece in the Saturday, March 30, 2013, New York Times, “The G.O.P.’s Diversity Deserts.”  Mr. Blow asks, “Why do so many insensitive comments come from these Republicans?” (He is referencing Representative Don Young’s comment about “wetbacks.” And Blow answers his own question: Because that’s actually how they feel and what they believe.)

“Too many House Republican districts are isolated in naturally homogeneous areas or gerrymandered ghettos…” And those elected officials just don’t experience much diversity, people experiencing their lives differently.

But it isn’t just these kinds of Republicans (and other people) who run into these kinds of troubles. Nonprofit organizations do, too. Imagine communities too full of these kinds of elected officials and these kinds of NGOs – unaccountable to changing demographics, different life experiences, the beauty and truth and conflict and challenges and opportunities of all kinds of diversity, not just race andculture.

Mr. Blow’s op-ed goes on to say, “Too many House Republicans have districts…dominated by narrow, single-note, ideology driven constituencies who see an ever expanding ‘them’ threatening the heritage of a slowly shrinking ‘us.'” How very sad. I’m sure glad I wasn’t raised in that kind of home or that kind of community. I’m sure glad I was always taught to welcome and encourage diversity and different life experiences.

How will these narrow districts and narrow-minded people survive? How will these narrow-minded and sight-limited nonprofits survive and add value to our communities? 

What’s your NGO like? Who are your board members and your staff? Who are your clients? How do you ensure that you welcome and encourage and reflect the ever-changing world? How do you reach out? How do you develop sensitivity within your board and within your staff?

Is your organization sealed into its own private world, closed off from what’s happening outside? Organizations do that about much more than diversity. Lack of an external focus – in any kind of business – is a death knell. What’s happening outside your organization, your family, your community, your political party – all matters. Ignore the changes outside at your peril.

It’s ignorant to behave thusly. And pretending that you care about the outside world doesn’t work. The outside world will see through your facade. As Mr. Blow says in his op-ed piece, “Try as you may, you can’t build a philosophical facade like a movie set – convincing in appearance, but having no real structure behind it – and expect it to forever fool and never fall. The true convictions of your heart will, eventually, be betrayed by the disobedience of your tongue.”

What are the true convictions of your organization’s heart? What is your moral approach? (And what is your business-centered approach since all the research tells us that the more diverse we are the better we perform?)

I always ask organizations about the extent of their external focus, awareness, engagement. And that always includes diversity in all its glory. Here’s an answer I’ve never forgotten: “We believe deeply in diversity. But it’s just so hard to find competent women and people of color.” And I responded: “I know women and people of color more capable than any of you sitting in this room right now. Maybe you should try harder.”

So how is diversity in your organization and in your community? How comfortable are you all with different life experiences, different perspectives? How comfortable are you with all this complexity?

Filed under: Leadership

About Simone Joyaux

A consultant specializing in fund development, strategic planning, and board development, Simone P. Joyaux works with all types and sizes of nonprofits, speaks at conferences worldwide, and teaches in the graduate program for philanthropy at Saint Mary’s University, MN. Her books, Keep Your Donors and Strategic Fund Development, are standards in the field.

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