One Size (of Diversity) Will Not Fit Most, by Maryam Gilmore, JD

As grant writers, we help secure much-needed funding so projects or programs can fulfill their objectives. As our society evolves, more and more funders are including cultural competency questions in their grant applications. Funders want to know that investing in your organization’s project or program helps a vast array of people and that your organization is cognizant of serving people in a way that is inclusive, respectful of diversity, and equitable. However, much like the for-profit world, the non-profit sector is not always diverse or culturally competent. Ideally, cultural competency should be at the core of all things your organization does, but the reality is that some organizations have a significant gap between their ideals and actions. However, there are a multitude of ways in which your organization can embrace diversity, foster a multicultural service environment, and close the gap. The good news is there are numerous things you can do to help your organization fully embrace diversity at every level. The even better news is I’m going to talk to you about focusing on some big picture aspects like how diversity impacts your organization’s policies, the makeup of your staff/board/target audience, and some quick examples of how your program can be strengthened or further structured with diversity in mind.

POLICIES, PLEASE!

As grant professionals, the organizations we write for often ask for help to guide strategic development conversations to create impactful projects and programs. So, don’t be afraid to start the conversation about cultural competency.

Does your organization’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity extend beyond its target audience to your board members and committee members? Consider also including your organization’s commitment to cultural competencies in your onboarding for new staff, board members, volunteers, or other stakeholders. This will help you show funders your awareness and appreciation for diversity.

Additionally, your organization should discuss and evaluate the ways in which it incorporates and implements culturally competent practices. (For example, Half Pints-R-Us, a nonprofit serving children with life-threatening illnesses, might discuss how to develop cultural competency policies regarding religious beliefs and services provided to children and their families.) The marriage of different experiences and perspectives brings a diverse array of opportunities to effectively serve your target audience, so get those policies in place. This is a crucial part of creating an effective project or program because you want it to best help all the people you serve.

DEMOGRAPHICS

Never underestimate the power of a different perspective. Many things, including the realization that it’s not enough to incidentally be aware of diversity, should be strategically included within various levels of your organization. When it comes to grant writing, it’s common place for funders to ask about various demographics of the people served (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, income status, etc.). Some funders also ask you to provide the racial and gender composition of your staff and/or board of directors. While I’m no funder, I suspect I know why they want to know this information. When board or committee members, staff, and others who inform the values of an organization come from a wide array of backgrounds, each person brings their unique perspective which helps shape how the mission is advanced, problems are solved, and innovation is achieved. A McKinsey & Company study found that companies with greater gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform others financially (above their respective national industry medians), and those with greater ethnic diversity are 35% more likely. (https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters) An environment where everyone feels respected and valued fosters high-quality work and productivity. For my bottom-line driven friends, this translates into better service delivery and increased outcomes – maybe even more funding.

STRENGTH IN DIVERSITY

Remember that diversity is multi-faceted. It’s so much more than just race, national origin, socioeconomic status, etc. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to cultural competency. However, there are some strategies your organization can explore to incorporate as much diversity as possible.

Diversity in your organization’s staff sends the message that the organization invests in and represents the community in which it operates. From a purely program or project service standpoint, many organizations should consider the impact that having a diverse makeup of the organization has on the service delivery and relatability to the population served. (For example, nearly all Half Pints-R-Us’s program participants come from low-income and/or under-uninsured families.) The peer perspective can be an invaluable one, and it would greatly benefit the organization to have staff, board members, or other stakeholders with experience in this demographic. This maximizes your organization’s potential for being able to connect with and subsequently advocate for the population you serve. In a perfect world, this is ideal. In the real world, the road to an inclusive, equitable organizational environment will require more conversations, intentionality, and changes along the way.

GPC Competency 3: Knowledge of strategies for effective program and project design and development; Skill 9: Identify any cultural competency or cultural diversity issues within the organization or project that will impact the design and/or grant development process.