How Authentic is Your Organization?

America’s changing demographics are getting noticed.

They’re changing policies. They’re purpling red, white and blue America. They have corporations, such as Coca-Cola and Cheerios-maker General Mills, rethinking ad strategies and celebrating diversity through Super Bowl commercials.

Nonprofits need to acknowledge changing demographics for our survival. “America is changing, and the new population carefully evaluates how organizations relate to it,” Glenn Llopis wrote in Forbes magazine. “If you are not authentic, consumers and employees will begin to question the authenticity and leadership of your organization.”

How authentic are you?

Age and race define this new population. According to Generations United’s new report, Out of Many, One: Uniting the Changing Faces of America, more than half of Americans younger than age five are people of color, compared to less than one in five Americans older than 65.

Acknowledging the growing racial and generational changes among our clients and employees can help nonprofits avoid this seesaw economy’s dip in and out of uncertainty.

If we’re going to capture opportunities for growth, we’ve got to look at individuals, families and communities as dynamic, interconnected systems. We must avoid fragmenting our impact and change outdated approaches.

So, here are some bold ideas.

Nonprofits should consider flexible work arrangements such as job sharing, compressed week schedules and telecommuting for our employees. In the for-profit sector, that’s how Katerina Tzouganatos, an employee of financial services powerhouse Deloitte LLP, was able to scale back her work week after giving birth to her first child.

According to the Boston Globe’s article “When Time is Money,” Tzouganatos, 32, went from working five days a week to four, including one day working from home in Framingham, Mass. Combined with a reduced schedule of business trips, Tzouganatos was able to “dial down” her career to 80 percent.

When she’s ready to return full time, she’ll dial it back up and Deloitte LLP will have a more seasoned employee willing and able to take on new challenges.

In Deloitte’s case, this arrangement earned the firm numerous workplace and diversity recognition, including Fortune® 100 Best Places to Work and BusinessWeek’s 2009 #1 Best Place to Launch Your Career. Who wouldn’t want that kind of publicity to promote with funders?

Another authentic approach to diversity is Time Banking, an exchange system of rewarding decency and a passion for justice. Instead of dollars, an hour’s help earns a member one credit.

Take Brittany Johnson, for instance, a single mom who volunteers through the Columbia Community Exchange (CCE) of Howard County, Maryland. Since Johnson started with the CCE, she’s installed printers for older residents and helped them copy family DVDs. In return, Johnson was pleasantly rewarded when an older adult provided childcare for her young son.

Time Banking benefits nonprofits by helping us grow our volunteer base, access a diverse set of skills and talents, reward our volunteers and save money while meeting our goals.

With the American Dream including home ownership, there’s an opportunity for nonprofits working in housing to prove their authenticity. They can start by working with financial institutions to promote greater affordability of home-ownership and rental housing through mortgage interest deduction reform that encourages mixed-age units and communities.

“The disparities in homeownership and wealth across generations and ethnic groups underscores the important choices we have today about the future of the overall housing finance system,” according to Erika C. Poethig, one of the authors of our report and The Urban Institute’s fellow and director of Urban Policy Initiatives. “If credit is more limited, tougher to get for younger generations, baby boomers will have a more difficult time selling their homes and moving to other supportive housing arrangements as they age.”

Nonprofits not only solve financial and lifestyle challenges faced by young and older generations alike, but also help create a common culture by bringing people of different ages and races together in shared communities.

The sooner we understand how our fates, as nonprofits, are intertwined with the changing population in concrete and urgent ways, the better off we will be in realizing the strengths of demographic diversity — in both age and race. This is our greatest asset.