Approaches to Program Design

Research completed by The Denver Foundation in 2003 found that nonprofit organizations generally tend to design programs using three different approaches to reach their constituents. (Pease, Katherine & Associates, Inside Inclusiveness: Race, Ethnicity, and Nonprofit Organizations. The Denver Foundation, July, 2003)

One Size Fits All
Programs are developed for an organization's traditional client base without consideration of the needs of diverse populations. 

For example, a substance-abuse treatment program sends a monolingual white recent immigrants. The organization continues to send her into this neighborhood with no cultural-awareness training and no support from others who have more familiarity

 Specific to Communities of Color

Programs are developed for particular racial or ethnic populations.

For example, an arts organization determines that it wants to cultivate the creative talents of young artists of color and creates an after-school program aimed at young people of color called "Culture and the Arts" in a neighborhood that is predominantly Latino and Vietnamese. Art instructors are multilingual, materials are multilingual, and outreach efforts focus on young people of color from the neighborhood. The curriculum includes instruction on the artistic accomplishments of artists of color and lessons on the artistic traditions of Latino and Vietnamese cultures.


Universal and Inclusive
Programs are intentionally designed to reach everyone in an organization's service area, which includes, but is not limited to, people of color. Programs are developed with an awareness of how people from different cultural backgrounds might respond. 

For example, a human services organization provides health care services to low-income neighborhood residents. The organization dedicates funding to ensure that it has offices located in low-income neighborhoods. It employs a diverse staff, some of whom are bilingual, and prints bilingual materials. Staff members of all racial and ethnic backgrounds go through regular training programs to ensure that they are aware of different cultural perspectives on health and access to health care.

Highly inclusive organizations have programs that are mostly Universal and Inclusive and, to a lesser extent, programs that are Specific to Communities of Color. Organizations that are not very inclusive typically create One Size Fits All programs and, in some instances, design programs Specific to Communities of Color.

Interestingly, The Denver Foundation's research identified a trend regarding the progression of organizations as they strive to become more inclusive.

Organizations that are transitioning from being only moderately inclusive to making a determined effort to becoming highly inclusive often develop programs that are Specific to Communities of Color.

Once organizations develop a comprehensive knowledge of diverse communities and create a fully inclusive culture, they have enough knowledge to confidently design and implement Universal and Inclusive programs and have less need to create programs specifically targeted at communities of color.

Organizations that are having difficulty becoming more inclusive sometimes develop programs that are Specific to Communities of Color to compensate for their overall lack of connection to communities of color.

For example, Denver Center for Crime Victims is very attuned to the needs of its clientele and designs programs in response to those needs. Inclusiveness practices are well integrated as part of the agency culture. The agency repeatedly demonstrates foresight, knowledge, and leadership in the programs that are designed and implemented to respond to the needs of communities of color. Staff emphasizes the importance of understanding inclusiveness and cultural nuances as primary to serving victims of crime, particularly if they are people of color.

In some cases, programs that are Specific to Communities of Color provide excellent opportunities for organizations to learn more about their constituents and to begin integrating inclusiveness practices into the organization. However, if these programs are designed without a true commitment from the leadership to creating a more inclusive organization, it is unlikely that there will be any significant impact.

For example, one organization received money from a funder to create an education and outreach program for school children of color. The organization hired a person of color deeply committed to working with communities of color to run the program. As a separate entity within the organization, the program appears to be meeting its goals and has been an unqualified success. However, the CEO of the organization and board members (including one board member of color) generally believe that the organization should be "colorblind" as it does its work. They have not integrated the program into the broader work of the organization. When funding for the program ends, chances are, the staff person of color may leave, the program will not be continued, and the lessons learned from the program won't have a lasting impact on the organization.


Overview: Programs and Constituents 

Defining Your Target Population 

Tracking and Evaluating How Constituents Use Your Programs 

Examples of Impact of Inclusiveness on Program Effectiveness  

Creating More Inclusive Programs and More Diverse Constituents 

    Developing Partnerships with Others Who Have Cultural Competence in Your Field 

     Asking Constituents for Suggestions 

     Creating a Programs/Constituents Advisory Board 

     Finding a Mentor