Now more than at any other point in history, volunteer programs are becoming increasingly diverse. The current volunteer workforce is the most diverse in history, and the inclusion of minorities is growing. However, there is still a long way to go.
Current statistics suggest that only 27% of nonprofits have a diversity and inclusion plan for volunteers.
Ensuring a volunteer program has a balance of volunteers from different backgrounds has a measurable impact on an organization’s success. This article looks at just some of the many reasons why diversity and inclusion are essential and critical for creating a positive, optimized, and community-centric volunteer program.
Diversity and inclusion are often talked about together, but they don’t actually mean the same thing. Diversity is the idea that the workplace is made up of various people from different cultures, countries, nationalities, ethnic backgrounds, religions, and different sexual orientations. Diversity means the workplace is diverse.
Inclusion differs slightly from diversity, but the two go hand in hand. Inclusion examines how the skills, talents, and ideas from the diverse workforce are valued. Inclusion finds a way to encourage people to feel confident that they are being heard.
In short, diversity is about making sure an organization (or volunteer program) is made up of a range of people, and inclusion makes sure those people are being valued. A volunteer program can be diverse but not inclusive. It is key to focus on both.
There are plenty of studies, and lots of research, that suggest a diverse volunteer workforce is beneficial for a nonprofit. In fact, diversity in a volunteer program has been shown to create an inclusive environment, strengthen relationships within the community, encourage people with different backgrounds to give, and bring new perspectives and ideas. We’ve outlined four of the main reasons why nonprofit organizations, big and small alike, should focus on diversity and inclusion as part of their volunteer recruitment, outreach, and retention process, and the importance of having volunteers that feel recognized, included, and able to express opinions and thoughts.
A volunteer database made up of a range of people, from different backgrounds and with different life experiences, is also a program packed with a range of talents, skills, knowledge, and perspective. A study, performed by Fast Company, found that organizations with above-average diversity and levels of engagement outperform organizations with below-average diversity and engagement by 46% to 56%. Why? Because organizations who have a diverse workforce can pull from a broader range of perspectives, opinions, and experiences. This means that a volunteer program can adapt and grow to reflect these perspectives.
In addition to making the most of an existing volunteer workforce, volunteer programs with a wider range of diversity will be more attractive to new talent. As talented people from a range of backgrounds look for volunteer opportunities, they will choose organizations that have a track record of showing diversity and inclusion is important.
Of course, inclusion is essential. Nonprofits with a diverse volunteer workforce will only be successful in making the most of their people if it is also very inclusive. Otherwise, the organization may have a range of skills and talents that are being underutilized.
Studies have found that the more diverse a team is, the more productive it will be. According to a report published by Smart Company, diverse teams make better business decisions 87% of the time. A diverse group of volunteers is often more capable of working together as a team since different perspectives and personalities can make working together easier. In addition, people contribute unique ideas, respond to others, and learn from each other. This increased cooperation leads to a motivated and goal-driven volunteer workforce.
Research also suggests that a more diverse team has a lower turnover rate, meaning volunteers are more engaged and stay longer. Learning new skills and understanding new perspectives from other volunteers leads to engagement and ultimately retention.
With more opinions, perspectives, and experiences to leverage, a diverse volunteer workforce is more likely to offer innovative and creative solutions to fulfill mission. Diverse volunteer workforces are also shown to be better at solving problems. Nonprofit organizations that can set themselves apart by introducing projects to creatively solve problems will thrive in the long run. Volunteers need to feel comfortable sharing their ideas with others and contributing to the overall success of the program.
Understandably, with more innovation, increased productivity, and more talented people, volunteer programs with a more diverse and inclusive workforce tend to generate higher impact in the community.
While diversity and inclusion should not stem from a desire to increase impact alone, the benefits are, of course, a great reason to look more closely at who is being recruited. A diverse volunteer workforce that is motivated and confident in sharing their experiences is one of the most important assets a nonprofit organization can have.