Across the nation, communities received a vital wake-up call in the summer of 2020. It became abundantly clear that shallow efforts toward inclusion weren't enough, and diversity or paying lip service without actual action or policy would no longer be tolerated.
Embrace the Diverse Future
Cultural diversity and inclusion are the new (and past-due) normal. So, what does that mean for your nonprofit?
Let's start with a brief definition of what these terms mean and describe why they are essential to your nonprofit's future, no matter your mission.
Diversity refers to the traits, perspectives and cultural characteristics that make people unique. Think of diversity as the demographics of your organization and community. Inclusion means adopting behaviors and cultural norms that guarantee that all will feel welcome, seen and heard. This means that inclusivity is reliant on creating a culture of acceptance and mutual respect. Attempts at increasing diversity will fail without a culture of inclusivity in which it can thrive.
Why Diversity and Inclusion Matters to Nonprofits
As with any organization, your nonprofit relies on creating, nurturing and growing a vibrant, active community. This is simply not possible without including people of diverse backgrounds, orientations or viewpoints. The first steps toward improving your nonprofit's diversity and inclusion involve looking closely at your mission and your current community.
Are you connecting with those that you are striving to serve? Does your outreach use messages that are appealing across cultures and demographics?
If you aren't sure, ask for input from across your organization. Odds are, you already have access to diverse opinions and perspectives, and if you don't, ask yourselves why that might be.
By being more inclusive in your messaging and seeking to understand diverse audiences, your nonprofit will:
Develop genuine, authentic relationships with a broader audience to create a strong, diverse community
Gain an understanding of diverse perspectives to help you avoid tone-deaf or exclusive language
Form a deeper connection with the audiences and communities you are seeking to serve
When you speak to more people, you reach more people. This helps your nonprofit grow your audience, community and donor base.
How to Use Inclusive Language Your Marketing Messaging
To achieve the goal, your nonprofit must adopt and consistently use inclusive language.
Does this seem like an unattainable attempt to win the "Woke Olympics"? Don't worry.
With a few tweaks, your nonprofit can start to adopt more inclusive language without sounding like you are keyword stuffing your marketing copy.
Start by reviewing the common mistakes that are made by organizations in their messaging and communication plans. What can you learn from the errors others have made? Then start to form strategies that avoid the common pitfalls.
Next, educate your team so that everyone understands why it's important to have clear, inclusive definitions around inclusive terminology. Then, create terms and definitions that address the diversity in your community and define how to use these inclusive terms consistently in your messaging.
Finally, create a process that includes a review of content and messaging for inclusive language and terminology so that nothing goes out the door that may be insensitive or tone-deaf.
You can reach a broader audience and avoid being canceled by swapping exclusionary terms for inclusive language (such as pregnant people instead of expectant mothers). Train your team on commonly used language that you want to avoid going forward.
Visual Representation Matters Too
Getting your words right is only half of the battle. It's also essential to include diversity in your photos, videos and other visual media.
Review the imagery you are currently using on your website, social media and advertising. Do you see a variety of demographics represented? And more to the point, how are people represented?
Ensure that the individuals featured in your marketing images reflect your inclusion and diversity efforts as well as showcase your nonprofit's mission. Avoid pictures that look staged or appear to show tokenization. Instead, lean toward candid shots of your volunteers in action, your staff interacting with those you serve or your community at large. If your nonprofit relies on stock photos, seek out images that include a diverse array of people.
In short, ensure that the images, videos and other visual media that you are using to represent your nonprofit are as diverse as your community and reflect the groups you serve.
Amplify Diverse Voices
We can become so focused on our own goals and missions that we can become isolated. However, many nonprofits in your community would love to partner with yours or could use your platform and reach to amplify their voice.
Seek out diverse organizations in your city, state or region whose mission complements that of your nonprofit. Find ways to amplify their message, partner with them for a common cause or co-host events or volunteer opportunities. It's a win-win! Both of your organizations will gain additional exposure and reach to expand and diversify your communities.
Or, you can support a nationally recognized organization with the mission to increase diversity, expand equality and raise visibility for marginalized groups. Many of these groups have used innovative marketing techniques to raise awareness for their causes.
The NAACP has been an amplifier for black voices since they were founded in 1909. Recently they have used hashtag campaigns to raise awareness for issues impacting the black community and people of color. Their #wearedonedying campaign helped to bring the issue of police violence against people of color into the mainstream. And their #becounted campaign encouraged people of color to participate in the 2020 Census.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC)
When the museum opened in 2016, its focus was on creating inspiring exhibits that encouraged conversations about race and the history of African Americans in America. To expand those conversations, in May of 2021, the NMAAHC announced the Taling About Race portal. The portal is an online resource for information on race, racism and how it impacts daily life in this country. By creating a resource that aligns with the museum's mission, they can expand their reach and encourage engagement with the issues that matter.
The National Diversity Council
The National Diversity Council works across private, public and nonprofit sectors to create environments that champion diversity and inclusion. They offer diversity training certification, mentorships and other leadership initiatives. To expand their reach and exponentially increase their impact, they formed strategic partnerships with national brands. Co-branding on annual reports, studies and white papers help to lend credibility and exposure.
Cultural Diversity in Nonprofit Marketing is Important
Representation matters. If your nonprofit is dedicated to improving diversity and inclusion in your marketing, it is crucial to remember that. Your organization has the opportunity to show a new generation that diversity is normal and inclusivity is human nature. It can feel like you're entering a political minefield, but it doesn't have to. Just remember to speak from your mission, values and heart, and the rest will fall into place.