Increasing Ethnic Diversity in the Nonprofit Sector's Workforce

How ethnically diverse is your organization?

If it’s anything like the majority of Canadian nonprofits, it probably isn’t. Our 2008 surveys of nonprofit employers and employees reveal that 89% of respondents identified as ‘white or caucasian’ and that only 6% identified as a member of a visible minority. Additionally only about one in nine indicated they had immigrated to Canada. While there are certain areas of the sector that are more representative of the Canadian mosaic – most notably organizations that work in the fields of immigrant and settlement services – the vast majority of nonprofits are not.

There is ample evidence that immigrant and members of visible minorities comprise a substantial pool of underutilized human resources. This is true in all sectors, including the nonprofit sector. Employers are not taking advantage of all the potential sources of qualified and skilled workers available to them. This presents a disadvantage to employers who cannot find the human resources they need, and it perpetuates inequalities in employment opportunities and career prospects for new immigrants and members of visible minorities.

What are we doing about it?

In response to an identified need from the sector for more information on the issue, the HR Council is undertaking a project to identify the key issues that are preventing nonprofits from accessing the talents of new immigrants and Canadians from diverse cultural backgrounds.

The project will employ a multi-faceted approach, including:

  • Engaging directly with people in the nonprofit sector in a series of cross-country consultations to explore the issues facing nonprofits when hiring and retaining a diverse labour force
  • Engaging directly with new immigrants and members of visible minorities who currently work in the nonprofit sector through telephone interviews
  • Conducting a review of relevant literature and information in order to identify further the sector’s current reality
  • Developing practical tools and resources to support organizations in hiring and retaining immigrants and members of visible minorities
  • Creating video profiles of new immigrants and members of visible minorities to showcase strategies that work when recruiting and retaining ethnically diverse populations

Project advisory committee

Mandie Abrams

Workforce Strategy Program Manager
Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary
Organizations (ECVO)

Shawn Mahoney
Executive Director
Opportunities for Employment Inc.

Marlo Bonnar

Human Resources Manager
Metro Community Housing Association

Avnish Mehta
Project Manager
Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS)

Dr. Paula DeCoit, PH.D.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
Social Planning Council of Peel

Peter Paul
Project Leader, ALLIES

Rita Field

Executive Director
Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service

Kelly Pollack
Executive Director
Immigrant Employment Council of BC

Melanie Laflamme
Vice President Human Resources and Organizational Development
YMCA of Greater Toronto

Amelie Richard
Project Manager
Relève en économie social (CSMO)


Project results

Recruitment and retention of New Immigrants and Members of Visible Minorities in the nonprofit sector’s workforce

This document captures all the information that has been collected through the research activities of this project. It describes:

  • Why having ethnic diversity in nonprofit organizations should matter
  • How nonprofits can attract ethnic diversity
  • The recruitment, selection, hiring, retention and engagement barriers experienced by employers and potential and current employees
  • Recommendations for action by employers and stakeholders supporting sector organizations
Opportunity Knocks! How nonprofit employers build a workforce that includes New Canadians

Provides readers with a synopsis of the research findings that relate specifically to new immigrants. This short, easy to read document describes the demographic challenges that effect the labour force, reasons organizations need to take action, and also provides five areas of focus for employers:

  • Get commitment from all levels of leadership
  • Make connections with New Canadian as an ‘employer of choice’
  • Implement effective hiring and selection practices
  • Create an inclusive work environment
  • Support employee development
This unique tool also links readers to relevant sections of the HR Council’s HR Toolkit for practical information resources that will help employers in each of the areas.


The Diversity at Work section of the website has been revamped with new content from this project. Take a look at the section's new information and new links to resources that will help you in the following areas:

Why nonprofits? is an existing video series where employees share their insights on working and building a career in the nonprofit sector. Through this project, videos have been added to this series describing the realities of professionals who are immigrants and or members of visible minority groups working in the sector. Learn from the different stories each person has to tell.

For more information about this project please contact