How Florida’s Stop WOKE Act Impacts Nonprofits, Part 2
The self-described raison d’etre of the Individual Freedom Act (opens as a pdf), aka Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act, is to negate efforts toward diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in workplaces and schools. As I described in part one of this series on Florida’s Stop WOKE Act, it applies to organizations with 15 or more employees doing business in Florida and prohibits nonprofits from requiring employees to participate in DEI training (which can be a difficult proposition, as some federal grants require organizations to deliver DEI training annually to be eligible to receive grant funding).
In part one, I described the difficulties nonprofits are facing trying to comply with the Stop WOKE Act. Now let’s take a deeper look into what complying with this law means for nonprofits in a more fundamental way; everything from human resources to donor relations is affected. Please note, I am not a lawyer and no information in this article should be construed as legal advice.
Diverging Paths Forward
Over the last few years, the nonprofit industry has been having a reckoning of sorts as it began to understand its historical inequities and the ramifications of imbalances of power in race, gender, community socioeconomics and more. BoardSource’s "2021 Leading With Intent, Reviewing the State of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of Nonprofit Boards" describes that because of three “society-altering events,” the COVID-19 pandemic, the murders of George Floyd and others, and the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection,
“We believe it is fair to say that each of these incidents has caused nonprofit sector leaders to see the issue of racial equity in a new light — because the context of the world around us has changed.”
Growth, however, does not happen automatically. It takes education for the people who have always sat atop the power structure to be able to recognize the sometimes-inadvertent disservice we’ve been doing to our employees, boards of directors and the communities we serve. Once understanding has been achieved, then the work of changing policies, procedures and actions begins.
Let’s take a look at a few areas where originations’ philosophies have been evolving to become more equitable. These are now either in flux or at a complete standstill in Florida for fear of civil action by the state. To be clear, DEI is about much more than race, but as race is the main focus of the Stop WOKE Act, that is what I’ll address.
Many organizations have drafted diversity, equity and inclusion statements. That was the first step. The next step is to back up the statements with action. Some organizations are embracing the work and making swift changes. For others, the path from awareness to change is messy and results in the type of organizational shakeup that is necessary anytime there is a fundamental shift within a nonprofit. Other nonprofits choose not to make any changes at all and to remain in the place they have always been.
Each nonprofit decides for itself. The result is that potential employees, donors and partners can then evaluate the actions of a nonprofit and its commitment or lack thereof to DEI and determine if they want to be a part of it.
However, now that nonprofits are concerned that actions they take to live up to their diversity statements may not be in line with the Stop WOKE Act and would, therefore, become a liability, it makes the path forward less clear.
Boards of Directors
According to the BoardSource report, 87% of CEOs, 83% of board chairs and 78% of board members are white.
Boards of directors are responsible for the strategic, legal and financial health of a nonprofit. They partner with CEOs to support the desired organizational culture. These numbers demonstrate that, in most cases, the boards of today are not representative of the communities they serve. The report also indicates that most boards believe that the appearance of having a diverse board and staff is important to the nonprofit’s external reputation, but believe it is less important for the internal work they do.
Organizational Hierarchies and Employment Equity
Like most for-profit companies, the majority of nonprofits operate in a hierarchical structure. If a workforce is diverse, it is likely more diverse at the lower levels of the organization and significantly less diverse at leadership levels.
According to Give.org's "Donor Trust Special Report 2022," 59.3% of respondents assume that DEI among board members and staff has a positive effect on the trustworthiness of the nonprofit. Some larger nonprofits have hired diversity officers or consultants to help make the necessary changes that will improve the diversity of their workforce.
However, there is an unfortunate trend happening in Florida where relatively new diversity departments are being disbanded in response to pressure from those enforcing the Stop WOKE Act. For example, last month an incoming New College of Florida trustee proposed to abolish New College’s Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence, fire its four employees, among other DEI-related actions (New College of Florida is a state school, but is also supported by a nonprofit foundation).
Fundraising is all about relationships. Boards of directors are an important part of the fundraising process and are often asked to introduce the nonprofit to their circles of influence. If a board is comprised of 78% white trustees, it is likely that those trustees’ circles of influence are predominantly white, too. This creates a white-recruitment ouroboros.
When a nonprofit limits their fundraising efforts to people they already know, they do themselves and their communities a disservice. Part of a successful fundraising model is to meet people where they are and communicate using the channels of communication that the supporters prefer. This can be challenging if the fundraising staff, CEO and board all have a similar point of reference.
“When considering how six different discrimination or lack-of-DEI scenarios might influence their willingness to donate to a charity they supported in the past, respondents frequently say that they would no longer donate or would want to know more,” according to Give.org’s report. “At the top end, upon becoming aware that the charity’s culture tolerates discrimination against people served based on sex, race, gender, disability, color, creed, national origin or religion, 40.8% say they would no longer donate.”
As I shared in part one of this series, understanding of the Stop WOKE Act is an important aspect of a nonprofit’s ability to comply. Such compliance can be difficult, however, when people’s expectations are changing. Donors, board members, employees and clients should be able to make the decision to engage with a nonprofit based on full understanding of that organization’s DEI philosophy. If a nonprofit’s ability to educate its workforce and board about DEI-related matters is hindered, how will they ever get to the next step of action for the greater good?
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
Tracy Vanderneck is president of Phil-Com, a Florida-based training and consulting company where she works with nonprofits on fundraising, board development and strategic planning. Tracy has more than 20 years of experience in fundraising, business development and sales. She holds a Master of Science in management with a concentration in nonprofit leadership and a graduate certificate in teaching and learning. She is a Certified Fund Raising Executive and an Association of Fundraising Professionals Master Trainer. Additionally, she designs and delivers online fundraising training classes and serves as a Network for Good Personal Fundraising Coach.