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Just Call Them "The Nonprofit Cupid"—Making a Match of Diverse Individuals

January 8, 2014

Eastern PA chapter eWire picThe AFP Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter is no stranger to diverse efforts, having started their AFP Diversity Committee in 2008. One of their own, Bruce Seidel, director of development for the Arc of Lehigh and Northampton Counties, was even spotlighted in the AFP Kaleidoscope in Spring 2013.

But the buck hasn’t stopped there. Chapter members pushed themselves to dive even deeper into diversity—because they can’t possibly know it all, right?

After forming its diversity committee the chapter encouraged diverse individuals in the community to join in on their chapter programs. One such tactic included offering reduced fees to attend chapter luncheons for fundraising professionals of color. However, with only four members on the committee (at the time), and disappointing results for their newfound tactics, they knew it was time to reevaluate. What were they doing wrong?

“Diversity can be a very trick issue,” says Seidel. “Labels and stigmas associated with individuals from groups of people can be as deep-seated and inaccurate as they are hurtful and polarizing.”

The chapter had to start asking the right questions, but first it needed a broad range of individuals to ask. Concentrating on one diverse group was not going to further their efforts in creating an inclusive chapter, and ultimately, community. So it set out to encompass all diverse groups in the community by inviting them to an open discussion. They included:

  • Business and financial leaders
  • Representatives from a wide array of religious institutions
  • People with disabilities
  • Television and radio news anchors/personalities
  • People of various races
  • Immigrants from many different nations
  • Long-time community residents
  • Ordinary folks who live in a city
  • Ordinary folks from a rural setting
  • People with diverse sexual orientations
  • Fundraising professionals with a broad range of organizational missions

Knowing that diversity can be as broad or narrow depending upon perceptions, the chapter knew it needed a group of individuals that spanned the gamut. That was step one.

Put It All on the Table

Hiding something prevents an all-inclusive community, so the AFP Eastern Pennsylvania chapter’s diversity committee met with its new members and had a “no holds barred” meeting—everything was fair game. Assumptions as to why each individual was there were quickly squashed as they went around the room and revealed how they identified themselves. One African American woman identified herself as “short”, not the obvious diversity that one would quickly jump to.

This exercise proved that diversity is in the eye of the beholder, and that those around them need to be aware of different diversity issues in one’s life before making an assumption as to how to approach or treat that person.

“Already we could see that even simple assumptions were often not what they seemed,” says Seidel.

Once the diversity barriers were broken, it was time to really dive in—they circled the room again, each sharing a moment when they truly felt like they didn’t belong, or felt unwelcome by a group of people because of their diverse traits. Talk about an eye-opening experience. Stories from a gay man, a person with physical disabilities, and a woman of Indian heritage brought tears to the room. Soon, they felt empathy and compassion for one another, and no longer saw each individual with a label on their forehead. Now a united committee, it was time to make moves in the chapter and community.

Diversity Speed Dating

The diversity committee found a project to channel their efforts that would not only benefit nonprofits and their boards, but also diverse individuals looking to get involved.

“Many nonprofits struggle to find attractive candidates of diversity for their board of directors, and are unaware of a large pool of individuals of diversity that want to become involved with organizational volunteer leadership,” says Seidel.

On the flip side, diverse individuals are looking for board opportunities but they’re not always aware of how to get involved with organizations whose missions they care about. Enter the new-age tactic for making the perfect match—speed dating. Why not apply a lively activity that’s used to match up two perfect candidates to nonprofit boards and diverse members?

The diversity committee took it a step further it they partnered with a local organization called the Volunteer Center—a nonprofit that has a special program called “Project Blue Print” that provides a five week course on the basic expectations of a board member for people of diversity looking to get involved. Just call them “the cupids of nonprofit boards.”

To setup the “Diversity Speed Dating” event, the AFP Eastern PA chapter administrator circulated information and invitations prepared by the diversity committee to their complete community database, including an extended invite for them to bring a guest. Individual diversity committee members also spread the word to their friends and associates in the community, along with reaching out to organizations they have a relationship with. Their partnering association, Volunteer Center, contacted graduates of their Project Blue Print diverse member classes with additional invitations. Their first event will take place in the spring of 2014, capping it at 50 participants for the first go-around to ensure that each attendee gets the focus they deserve. With such a positive response from the outreach, the chapter foresees many more events in the future!

Together they hope to make numerous matches made in nonprofit heaven. A diverse heaven, of course.

Diversity-Ever-After

In a perfect world, the AFP Eastern Pennsylvania chapter would find a way for everyone in its diverse community who has a desire to contribute as a donor, a volunteer or an organizational staff member to achieve a happy outcome. It views cultural diversity as perhaps the most important challenge of the time—and to that it says, challenge accepted. Although there is a long road ahead, it agrees that traveling that road will be both hard work and a joyful experience for the entire chapter.

There’s a reason why the AFP Eastern Pennsylvania chapter and diversity committee were awarded the AFP Charles R. Stephens Excellence in Diversity Chapter Award. Inspired by their journey to a diversity-ever-after world? Then take these four steps to get started in diverse efforts for your own chapter, nonprofit, community and individual lifestyle:

1.)   Invite other diverse individuals to join you! It could be the person sitting next to you at your office, the barista at your daily café, or your running buddy—diversity has no strict guidelines, everyone can (and should) get involved.

2.)   Be candid. Having a close-minded idea of diversity and how individuals may perceive themselves will not further a diverse and inclusive world. Put the issues all on the table, and encourage those around you to do the same. Be mindful of those sensitive to their issues of diversity and create a safe atmosphere within a diverse group.

3.)    Find a local organization, large or small, to partner with in your diversity efforts. Maybe it’s a local shelter that struggles with serving primarily one nationality over the other, or an active charity that is afraid that it is not inclusive to those with physical disabilities—you never know who else is out there looking for you to partner with in diverse efforts.

4.)   Bring the diverse community together! Once you have a core foundation of leaders for your diversity group, reach out to all individuals in your community. Have a networking event, a seminar on diversity in the workplace, or even a speed dating session (à la the AFP Eastern Pennsylvania chapter), and create an even larger group of diverse individuals. Together you can take this journey and create an inclusive world!

For more on what other AFP chapters are doing to further efforts of diversity and inclusion—efforts that you, too, can adapt for your organization or group—check out a large chapter’s next generation of diversity program, and a small chapter’s small but mighty diversity aspirations.



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