DEI in Advancement Requires a Comprehensive Approach
Diversity, equity, and inclusion in advancement have never been more important. Advancement leaders need to engage and reach more diverse constituents while hiring and leading more diverse teams. But many organizations and institutions are frustrated by their lack of progress in this critical area and may be unsure about the best ways to inculcate DEI thinking and practices.
To meet that challenge, Aspen Leadership Group's Angelique Grant and Ronald J. Schiller collaborated to write a comprehensive guide for building inclusive cultures and teams. Available now from CASE, the new book—Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Advancement: A Guide to Strengthening Engagement and Fundraising Through Inclusion—offers rich strategies for achieving behavioral change and sustained success in meeting key diversity, equity, and inclusion objectives.
If you buy the book before December 31, you will be invited to one of two free CASE ToGather virtual book clubs, facilitated by the book authors, to be held in January and February 2021.
Here, Grant and Schiller touch on some major themes of their book.
How important is DEI to the advancement field?
Grant & Schiller: As our country becomes more diverse, higher education constituents also become more diverse. Students, alumni, parents, and other stakeholders locally and globally add to that diversity. Those involved in nonprofit leadership and in the field of advancement have long had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of volunteers and donors. Those who have not yet figured out how to embrace that opportunity are quickly being left behind, engaging fewer constituents, raising less money, and leaving talent unrealized. Advancement is lagging in diversity, equity, and inclusion when it should be leading—and leading proactively.
What are some of the initiatives that an institution or organization should consider undertaking to improve its DEI efforts?
Grant & Schiller: Too many organizations make the mistake of jumping right into solving the issue, when in actuality they have not identified what the issue is. Some begin with transactional tactics versus thoughtfully exploring organizational values. Establishing a diverse, equitable, and inclusive team and culture will not happen as the result of hiring one person or having a few training sessions. One of the resources included in the book is the DEI Maturity Model for Advancement that Grant and the Aspen Leadership Group developed to help organizations evaluate how mature their organization is when it comes to having an inclusive culture and realizing the benefits of diversity and equity, ranging from reactive to proactive, tactical to strategic, and short-term to long-term sustainable change.
Leaders typically have a different perception of their organization’s DEI maturity than staff and other constituents. An objective third-party assessment can help the entire organization take an honest, in-depth look across culture, recruitment, onboarding, retention, fundraising, and volunteer engagement. An assessment can give everyone a shared understanding of the organization's starting point and help focus resources on a pathway to sustained progress. From there, an inclusion council (aka DEI committee) can be an important driver of progress and an accountability partner in this effort.
What counsel does the book offer to organizations whose DEI efforts may have stalled in the past?
Grant & Schiller: Many leaders know they need to hire diverse teams and engage diverse constituents. But if we could know our way to change, the world of philanthropy would look a lot different by now. Organizations—particularly advancement leaders—need to move beyond knowledge to brave conversations and disciplined intentional work that can lead to sustained behavior change. This process of moving from awareness to action and accountability is where organizations have real potential to improve their existing DEI initiatives.
The book offers strategies for moving from awareness to action, and it also reframes the DEI conversation, which historically has prioritized diversity alone, despite the pillars of inclusion and equity being equally vital. As shared in the book, “Diversity is counting heads. Inclusion is making heads count.” This tenet helps organizations begin to understand why diverse teams are critical to success, but only when all individuals can bring their whole authentic selves to the work, are acknowledged and valued for their contributions, and are compensated, listened to, and recognized.
What positive effects can an institution or organization expect from investing in DEI initiatives?
Grant & Schiller: Study after study has shown that investing in DEI is not just “the right thing to do,” it actually helps organizations achieve their goals. Diverse, inclusive teams perform better; they outperform against industry benchmarks, see better rates of retention and employee satisfaction and engagement, and display more skill in problem-solving and creativity.
Organizations that invest in DEI retain employees in the long term and avoid wasting money combatting turnover or competing for talent. Those employees will possess or develop skills needed to meet stakeholders where they are and as they prefer, rethinking how to secure and value gifts of time, treasure, talent, ties, and testimony. Ultimately this creates a more inclusive culture of philanthropy that can open new doors and transform the ways in which board members, alumni, and donors engage with the mission.
How specifically can a reader benefit from this book’s content?
Grant & Schiller: We designed the book to serve as a practical guide to support nonprofit professionals in moving from awareness to action and to allow for steady and sustainable progress in facing what can sometimes feel like an overwhelming challenge. Using the book, they can more effectively assess and change practices and behaviors. Already we have heard that many teams plan to use the book to engage staff, boards, and volunteers in more intentional awareness-building, assessment, and development of specific action steps. With more individuals involved, those organizations will be able to develop healthier, more inclusive cultures, engage more stakeholders, raise more money, and have a greater impact on society.