It’s Time for Nonprofits to Strengthen Their Workforce – Hire Immigrants!

The HR Council for the Nonprofit sector conducted research to explore issues that prevent nonprofit sector employers from accessing the skills and expertise of immigrants and visible minorities.(This report summary originally appeared on the Maytree Blog on September 25, 2012.)

By Bonnie Mah, Maytree Policy & Research Analyst

What is this research about?

The report, Recruitment and retention of New Immigrants  and Members of Visible Minorities in the  nonprofit sector’s workforce (PDF), describes the demographic challenges that affect the nonprofit labour force, reasons organizations need to take action, and provides five areas of focus for employers (note: the report refers to “ethnic diversity,” encompassing visible minority and under-represented immigrant communities).

Why is this research needed?

In Canada, the nonprofit sector employs 7.2% of the workforce, or 1.2 million paid employees.

While visible minorities and immigrants make up 16% and 20% of the population, respectively, previous studies show that only 6% of nonprofit employees are visible minorities, and 11% are immigrants. Moreover, 93% of executive directors identify themselves as white.

The business imperatives for hiring from non-traditional labour pools are clear: filling skill shortages, better service provision, and the increase in innovation and diversity of thought. It’s up to nonprofits to enhance their hiring and employment practices to put values of diversity and inclusion into practice.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers reviewed previous studies and literature. They surveyed 350 nonprofit employers, and conducted eight focus groups with a total of 89 nonprofit employers and 26 individual interviews with immigrants and visible minorities who work or have worked in the nonprofit sector.

What did the researchers find?

Compared to other sectors, the employee make-up of Canada’s nonprofit sector lags in its immigrant and ethnic diversity. However, the majority of employers surveyed believe that hiring immigrants and visible minorities is important, and expect to see an increase in the number of immigrant and visible minority employees.

Both employers and employees indicated that discriminatory practices and biased approaches remain a reality for immigrants and visible minorities. Indeed, participants reported that the business case for an ethnically diverse workforce is not well understood at higher levels of their organization.

As well, turnover rates for immigrants and visible minorities in the first year of employment are higher than for other groups. This suggests that nonprofit employers must also invest in integrating and retaining these staff. While the report focuses on immigrants and visible minorities, many of the issues reflect those facing all employee groups. In particular, the report suggests that nonprofits pay specific attention to orienting new employees to the values and norms of the organization, and how they shape workplace behaviour.


The report contains a number of practical and specific recommendations for attracting, hiring, retaining, and promoting immigrants and visible minorities.

Five core recommendations aim at supporting ethnic diversity in organizations and in the sector:

  1. Promote your organizations and the nonprofit sector as viable and vibrant career destinations.
  2. Learn from best practices on hiring and integrating immigrants and visible minorities.
  3. Articulate the benefits and strategies for ethnic diversity, specific to your organization’s context, sphere of activity, and objectives.
  4. Increase diversity on your board, specifically with board directors from visible minority and under-represented immigrant communities.
  5. Create an ethnically diverse pool of volunteers as a potential source of new employees.

How can you use this research?

Each section of the report contains specific recommendations or practices that might be useful to your organization.

In addition, the report explains the business case for ethnic diversity, which might be useful to share with the leadership in your organization.


More from the HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector:

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