The world is changing, and so is philanthropy. Many in the philanthropic community desire that nonprofits reflect the communities they serve—including everyone from volunteers and donors to staff, executives, and the board. One way to solve this is by embracing DEIAB principles.

DEIAB stands for diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging. Often, such initiatives come from the top down and start with the board of directors.

The problem is that DEIAB work is hard, and boards that seek to embrace these principles will likely face some resistance along the way. But that’s okay: by being vulnerable and open to change, you can transform your organization into one that mirrors your constituents and better serves your mission.

Let’s explore how you can get started, including ways to handle resistance. We’ll also discuss taking DEIAB from a one-off training to a sustainable part of your culture.

Defining DEIAB

Let’s start by defining what DEIAB means. First, diversity is about representation. You want to ensure all voices from the communities you serve are reflected throughout your organization, especially on your board.

With equity, the people who are impacted or closest to challenges have an opportunity to weigh in on the solutions. This often means that systems have to shift so those who may be outside of power have the opportunity to move toward it. Inclusion is similar, but it’s more of a mindset. You want to hear different perspectives. You understand that you’ll need a variety of voices to find solutions to the challenges your organization encounters.

Accessibility involves thinking about what kinds of barriers exist that prevent everybody from enjoying a space, organization, community, event, etc. Barriers can range from physical to financial. Finally, belonging means ensuring everyone can show up in those spaces and be accepted. They feel valued and respected for who they are and what they bring to the conversation.

Getting Started with DEIAB Work

Bringing DEIAB principles into an organization usually requires outside help. After all, conversations about race, ethnicity, LGBTQIA, and inclusion can be uncomfortable and difficult.

Christal M. Cherry and Dr. Renee Rubin Ross are nonprofit consultants who often work together to conduct DEIAB training and workshops. They start by meeting with the nonprofit’s executive director and board chair to understand why the training is needed. This typically involves an assessment of the organization’s culture, which includes interviewing people, conducting surveys, and reviewing policies and collateral.

There must also be openness and readiness at the beginning of the process. Leadership should show a real willingness to recognize that changes need to happen. They should be willing to revisit or add policies that reflect DEIAB principles as well.

Regardless of whether you bring in a consultant, another good way to begin DEIAB work is to go back to your mission: Who are you serving, and is that community represented on your board and staff? Say your mission is to support people who are impacted by cancer. While this disease touches literally everyone, we know people of color have much less access to quality healthcare. How might this fact help you build a more equitable organization?

If your board is willing to do the work and ask hard questions, it will move one step closer to being a more diverse and inclusive representation of your community.

How To Handle Resistance

Many issues around race and equity make people feel vulnerable, which can lead to resistance around DEIAB work. But sometimes, all it takes is finding one person who’s willing to jump in to get the ball rolling.

Cherry and Rubin encourage board members to embrace vulnerability by sharing their experiences. This can open connections and lower defenses, which helps people realize that they’re all here to learn how to make the organization better.

In addition to sharing race stories, Cherry and Rubin take an interactive approach to their training. Doing so helps attendees feel more ownership over the process, as opposed to sitting through lectures. They use readings, role-playing, videos, and small group exercises to engage those in the workshop.

The goal is to show training attendees that they can build a world where everyone thrives.

Weaving DEIAB Into the Fabric of Your Organization

To truly see change in your organization, DEIAB work must be more than a box you check during Black History Month. You may start with your board, but then you have to think about your staff, donors, volunteers, policies, and collateral. DEIAB principles should permeate through the entire culture of your nonprofit.

It goes back to assessing where you currently are with these principles. Pose questions to your stakeholder groups, such as:

  • How are things going now?
  • What policies are in place?
  • In what ways are DEIAB principles working?
  • What needs to happen next?

Then, create an action plan. Perhaps you need to revise your HR manual, shift the board matrix, or set term limits for board members. It could even be as simple as holding board meetings at a different time so more people can participate. Small moves like these can ensure equal representation on your board.

Of course, it’s critical to integrate your efforts into your regular routine and culture. Create a calendar of holidays and traditions for all cultures represented in your organization, and make sure you consider it as you plan meetings and events. Also, rethink every policy you have in place through a DEIAB lens. For instance, don’t assume everyone on your staff or board has a personal credit card with room on it to book a work trip.

To make your DEIAB efforts sustainable, everyone in your nonprofit, from the top down, needs to embrace this work and accept that it’s a long-term, systematic change. This is how you begin to move toward race equity.

Create Lasting Change on Your Board

Bringing DEIAB principles into your organization starts with your leadership. Take a hard look at the community you serve and make sure it’s reflected in your board members. Don’t ignore or overlook people because they don’t “look like” someone who typically serves on a nonprofit’s board.

You could be missing out on key expertise and resources.

Conversations around identity can be difficult, but they are vital to your organization’s health. If you need help, our team at Allegiance Group + Pursuant will be happy to connect you with resources and contacts like Cherry and Rubin.

If you’re willing to be vulnerable and do the DEIAB work, your nonprofit will emerge stronger, and your mission will be fulfilled in ways you never imagined.

This blog is based on a recent episode of Fundraising Today and the Go Beyond Fundraising podcast. Listen to the full episode now.

To learn more about Christal M. Cherry, visit

To learn more about Dr. Renee Rubin Ross, visit