Lessons Learned from Working on Inclusiveness

29 03 2010

When I was young, I used to watch my grandmother bake cookies.  Many of her recipes, including my favorite (chocolate-dipped vanilla-cream sugar cookies) had dozens of ingredients, dozens of steps, and took many hours to complete.  Working on inclusiveness reminds me of being in my grandmother’s kitchen.  The processes of both baking and inclusiveness work are challenging and enjoyable, but they require patience and perseverance to reap the big rewards. 

The Denver Foundation has been promoting and supporting inclusiveness for most of the past decade, both in the nonprofit sector through our Inclusiveness Project and within our own organization.  We learned early on that inclusiveness is much more than just diversity.  Inclusive organizations are learning-centered organizations that value the perspectives and contributions of all people.  Inclusiveness refers to the entire culture of a nonprofit organization, including its mission, board, staff, donors, volunteers, and programs. 

When we first began this initiative, one of the business leaders on our board said, “It’s about time! Many businesses have been doing this for years.”  Indeed, the business sector is generally way ahead of the nonprofit sector regarding inclusiveness, and with good reason.  The demographic changes in our society are profound, ranging from the aging of baby boomers to many states becoming majority minority.  Inclusiveness makes good business sense and is a way for organizations to prepare for the future.

Through our internal efforts, we have explored how issues of race, gender, people living with disabilities, sexual orientation, generational differences, and socio economics affect our work.  In this post and the next, I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve learned from this work over the years:

Hire people who are different.  When interviewing people for a job, I used to ask what magazines they read regularly or what books they had read most recently.  Consciously or subconsciously, I was attracted to those who share my love for reading, particularly those with eclectic tastes.  I have come to realize that many people learn in ways other than reading books and magazines.  The workplace is richer when we hire people whose skills complement rather than reinforce ours.  Our Help Desk Technician, who cannot hear or speak, has superb computer skills and superb communication skills.  Often, he “sees” things that others in the office miss.

Varied perspectives generally lead to better results.  President Lincoln is known for surrounding himself with a Cabinet whose backgrounds and views diverged widely.  He listened to and incorporated many different viewpoints before making important decisions.  Likewise, we have created a Philanthropic Leadership Committee, comprised of representatives from our Board of Directors (both present and past) as well as Foundation staff of all levels.  In making decisions that affect the community, we value the perspectives of each individual.

In today’s workplace, younger people might look at a draft marketing brochure and feel it is boring; older people might look at it and feel that the type is too small to read.  The final result can be a product that appeals to all age groups.

Next week, I’ll share more lessons learned on this important journey.

David Miller is President and CEO of The Denver Foundation.

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One response

2 04 2010
Judy Knapp

Great article, David. We appreciate the work The Denver Foundation has done around the issue of inclusiveness and more importantly, the willingness of your staff to assist others in the nonprofit field as we explore how we, too, can become more diverse and inclusive organizations. As a small community foundation outside the Denver metro region, we used The Denver Foundation materials in a series of capacity-building trainings to encourage diversity in all aspects of nonprofit operations with the goal of strengthening our Weld County nonprofits and helping them prepare for the future.
Judy Knapp, President
Community Foundation Serving Greeley and Weld County

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