Blog Post: Embracing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Creating a DEI-Focused Experience for Volunteers

Embracing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Creating a DEI-Focused Experience for Volunteers

Eric Burger

January 8, 2024

Approximately 25 percent of nonprofit organizations in the U.S. do not have diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies.

In today's world, diversity, equity, and inclusion have become more than just buzzwords.

They're now values that organizations across the globe are striving to uphold. Volunteers are the backbone of any successful organization, which is why it's so important to create an inclusive experience that caters uniquely and specifically to their needs.

And there are some very tangible benefits to these initiatives as well. For instance, did you know that companies in the top quartile for diversity are 30% more likely to have financial returns above their industry median?

Embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion is not only the right thing to do but also just makes good business sense. In this article, we'll explore how organizations can create a DEI-focused experience and why it's so important to do so.

Let's dive right in!

What is DEI? Why Is It Important?

For nonprofits, planning and investing in diversity, equity, and inclusion is more important than ever.

DEI is the acronym most often used to refer to these gold standards. Diversity focuses on recognizing and embracing differences, including age, race, religion, ability, gender, and culture. At the same time, equity highlights the goal of providing a fair experience to all volunteers, regardless of status. Inclusion is about creating a sense of belonging where everyone feels valued and respected.

As an organization, having DEI-focused policies can enrich a nonprofit's volunteer program by providing fresh perspectives, talent pools, and overall community engagement. It eliminates the notion that only certain people can make a meaningful difference because everyone's experiences are valuable.

Not only that, but volunteering, especially with DEI-focused programs, helps organizations showcase their commitment to responsible business practices and helps them build better relationships with the people they serve. When organizations recruit diverse volunteers with different cultural perspectives, they are likely to connect with more people from different communities and help them build better relationships with the people they serve.

Perhaps most importantly, when volunteers feel like they are valued for their skills and experiences, they are more likely to take ownership of their roles, which improves the overall success and performance of your initiatives.

How to Create a DEI-Focused Experience for Volunteers

Are you looking to build a more diverse and inclusive volunteer team? Tired of seeing the same faces at every event, and want to make sure everybody, from every corner of your community, feels invited to participate?

Here are a few key strategies for making sure your volunteer experience is as DEI-focused as possible.

Practice Inclusive Recruitment Strategies

It's easy to fall into the trap of relying on your existing networks to find volunteers, but this can limit the diversity of your team. Instead, consider the following strategies, among others:

  • Target Diverse Communities: Reach out to community organizations and groups that focus on diverse populations. Attend events and meetings hosted by these groups and make a connection with the community.
  • Advertise in a Variety of Places: Don't rely exclusively on social media or your organization's website to recruit. Instead, post flyers in community centers, churches, and other public spaces where diverse populations gather.
  • Use Inclusive Language: The language you use in your recruitment ads can greatly impact who responds. Make sure your language is inclusive and welcoming to all, avoiding any implicit biases that may alienate potential volunteers.

Offer Regular Training, Particularly in Cultural Competency

Recruiting a diverse volunteer team is only the first step. To truly create a DEI-focused experience for your volunteers, you must offer regular training in cultural competency, which will help your new and existing volunteers develop the skills they need to create a welcoming and inclusive experience for all.

This training should cover a wide range of topics, including:

  • Understanding Different Cultures: Train your volunteers to appreciate and respect different cultures, traditions, and customs so they can better relate to diverse groups of people.
  • Recognizing Implicit Bias: Implicit biases are unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that affect our perceptions and decisions. By training your volunteers to recognize and counter these biases, you can create an environment that is more inclusive overall.
  • Active Listening and Effective Communication: Train your volunteers on how to actively listen and ask open-ended questions, as well as how to communicate in a way that is respectful and inclusive.

Encourage Collaborative Decision-Making

Encouraging collaborative decision-making means allowing volunteers to share their thoughts and opinions on the direction of the organization.

This could mean holding regular team meetings where everyone has a chance to speak up, or it could involve implementing a suggestion box system where volunteers can share their ideas anonymously.

Whatever the approach, the goal is to ensure that everyone feels heard and valued. By doing so, you’re not only creating a more positive and inclusive work environment, but you’re also ensuring that the organization is making decisions that benefit everyone involved.

Consider Naming a Diversity Leader

You may also want to designate a specific person to lead efforts around diversity and inclusion.

This leader could serve as a point person for volunteers who may have questions or concerns about diversity and inclusion, and they could also be responsible for developing and implementing strategies to support these efforts.

Ideally, this should be someone who has experience and knowledge in the area of diversity and inclusion and who can be trusted to lead these efforts with sensitivity and thoughtfulness.

Get Your Leaders or Board of Directors Involved

If you want to create a truly inclusive volunteer environment, you need buy-in from your organization's leadership. Board members and executives can use their positions of power to set the tone for the entire organization and lead by example.

One way to get your leaders involved is to form a diversity and inclusion committee or task force. Make sure to include people from all levels of your organization, including volunteers, to ensure that everyone's voice is heard. This will also help to ensure that your DEI efforts are integrated throughout the organization and not just seen as "nice to have".

Focus on Your Retention Strategies

Volunteers are the backbone of any nonprofit organization, and losing them can be devastating. That's why it's important to prioritize retention strategies as a key part of your DEI initiatives.

One of the top reasons that volunteers leave an organization is because they feel like their contributions aren't valued. By making retention a priority and creating an inclusive culture, you can help keep volunteers engaged and committed to your cause.

Continuously Educate Yourself on Diversity Initiatives

Diversity initiatives are constantly evolving, and it's important to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and best practices. This will help you better serve your diverse communities and ensure that your volunteer program is truly inclusive.

Consider attending diversity and inclusion conferences and events, which provide opportunities to learn from experts in the field and network with other organizations that share your commitment to DEI.

Focus on Skill-Based Opportunities

By providing skill-based opportunities that cater to each volunteer's unique skills and strengths, your volunteers will feel valued for what they bring to the table.

As a volunteer manager, ask volunteers about their skills and interests and match them with corresponding tasks. For instance, if a volunteer is good at social media marketing, they could help promote the organization's events online.

Eliminate Barriers to Volunteering

One of the primary goals of a DEI-focused experience is to have a diverse group of volunteers, regardless of their background.

 Therefore, you should go the extra mile to make sure all potential barriers are eliminated that might discourage somebody from any particular group from volunteering.

 These include language barriers, transportation issues, problems with physical accessibility, and more.

Provide Opportunities for Feedback and Evaluation

Finally, you should get in the habit of continuously evaluating your own DEI efforts and seeking feedback from your volunteers. Consider conducting surveys or focus groups to gauge the effectiveness of your initiatives and identify areas for improvement.

Want to learn even more about DEI and why it is important for volunteer programs? Check out our article that provides 4 reasons why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are important for volunteer programs

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