Executive Directors

Change starts at the top. One-third of respondents identified the executive director as a key determinant in creating a welcoming and supportive climate in which development professionals of color can fulfill their job expectations with dignity and authority.

  • Be aware that your actions set the tone. A commitment to DEI cannot be relegated to the HR Department – they can be responsible for implementation, but they cannot create the organization’s values nor show its commitment to walking-the-walk.
  • Be cognizant that stakeholders look to you – both internal (managers, line staff, others) and external (board, donors, etc.) – for guidance and leadership in how to approach DEI concerns. Your voice, above all, has agency on these issues. Your silence speaks volumes, and others derive cues about the organizational culture you are helping to foster, both positive and negative.
  • If your aim is to lead a diverse, equitable and inclusive nonprofit workplace, make sure that your organization has a DEI policy in place that is bolstered by professionally and externally-facilitated racial equity training for all staff, with regularly-intervaled refreshers.
    • Bring in outside experts to support your efforts to create a workplace where all perspectives and lived experiences are weighted equitably and valued across your organization.
    • Make sure that senior management is held accountable for DEI strategies and that benchmarks are regularly measured to ensure progress is being made.
    • Budgeting time and money is critical to making sure this all happens.
  • Make sure there is a mechanism in place to get development staffers’ honest feedback about their working conditions – both internal (transparency and equity in staffing decisions) and external (relationships with board members, donors and other stakeholders).
    • Ask for feedback from white development staff members as well as staffers of color, which may reveal more about shared experiences and divisions within the department.
    • Offer regular, anonymous feedback tools to all staffers.
  • In order to hear what is happening, even when it is not easy, be prepared to listen closely. Then engage in honest internal dialogue – with staff leadership and board members – based on the feedback you’re given. Take the opportunity to hold a mirror up to these findings because even the most DEI-astute organizations make mistakes – and it’s how we deal with them that matters in creating a lasting culture of equity.
    • Invest in DEI training for yourself, as needed. Leading by example gives you more authority to invite other staff and board leaders to join you.
    • Give yourself (and your organization) the tools and support to address the tensions by having these sometimes difficult conversations.
  • Know that development is an arena with power-based interpersonal interactions on a number of levels, making it ripe for DEI abuses. Raise up these aspects of the work (as opposed to treating the entire staff as an undifferentiated group). The clout possessed by donors who can potentially offer access to significant funding is a real factor in fundraising. Therefore, development relationships need special attention and care.
  • Be prepared to have open-minded conversations on specific donor issues as they arise, with a range of organizational leaders, board members, and directly affected development staff of color. If you as an organizational leader are experiencing these issues for the first time, get help on how to conduct an appropriate dialogue. Development professionals of color can help develop guidelines that enhance their agency and discretion in navigating DEI-challenging scenarios towards a positive outcome (whatever that outcome may be). Create an organizational policy that supports this process beyond the particular triggering situation.

Return to the list of Recommendations


  • NYCT
  • JP Morgan
    JP Morgan
  • NYC 276
    NYC 276
  • Altman
  • Kramer Levin
  • Robinhood
  • William Casper Graustein
    William Casper Graustein
  • The New York Women's Foundation

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