Diversity Collaborative

Increasing racial diversity in the nonprofit sector

In 2008, a group of nonprofit leaders, funders, and consultants from across the country came together to explore progress, barriers and possible next steps in increasing racial diversity in nonprofit sector leadership. Approximately 40 interested and committed people came together though many did not know each other. There were several, and sometimes contradictory, views of underlying issues, desired outcomes, potential benefits, and best strategies. At least as important as the ultimate goal of expanding the leadership presence of people of color in nonprofits was the desire to connect people who had an interest in the topic.

What we did

In this retreat facilitation we

  • Worked closely with the Planning Committee to clarify the different assumptions that existed on the committee and would likely be present in the retreat participants;
  • Identified the potential tensions inherent in the variety of perspectives and experiences expected in the session;
  • Developed an agenda that would help surface the differences and have them available as resources to the group as participants grappled with options for direction and action;
  • Supported the participants as they expressed their desires and motivations, explored starting assumptions and background information, learned from the each other’s experience, and generated potential plans.


A conversation that could have been contentious or muted because of concerns that often accompany discussions of race, was instead candid and hope-filled. Participants frankly acknowledged the challenges of individual and societal resistance to racial inclusiveness and equity and the ongoing presence of racism. For several participants, the ability to have conversations about race and equity in America and the nonprofit sector in a safe supportive environment was nurturing and a valued outcome unto itself. In addition, the group used the energy and good will generated in the retreat to convert the identified options into proposals for continued action by the newly created Diversity Collaborative.

In an effort to bring together a group of leaders from the Baltimore-Washington region and nationally to explore why there are so few leaders of color in top nonprofit leadership positions, I turned to Heather for advice on the idea and then as a facilitator. She brings such a great combination of experience, knowledge and a personal presence that is respectful and lives out her commitment to diversity, she was perfect. Through her facilitation and assistance in designing the session, we brought together 40 people of different races andĀ ethnicĀ groups who mostly did not know each other and had a frank and productive conversation about a challenging topic. That meeting has served as a foundation for formation of a regional collaborative committed to supporting and increasing leaders of color in the region. Heather contributed significantly to our positive beginning.

Tom Adams