Religious Diversity Within Your Organization

Religious diversity is an important - and often troubling - issue in an age when diversity and inclusiveness are widely promoted and valued. Religious differences are driving change in the communities we serve and the workforce we employ. Not only are our volunteers and employees increasingly more religiously diverse, but so too are clients and supporters. Additionally, faith-based organizations are, as always, significant strategic community partners in nonprofit work.

According to the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding (, there are more than 1500 religious denominations in the U.S., and 90% of Americans profess a belief in God. Adopting best practices with respect to religious diversity may help your organization in avoiding multicultural missteps.

What can be done? First of all, it may not be your organization's desire to be religiously inclusive. Your very mission may call for keeping and promoting a strong theological stance that does not want to "include" other belief systems. Further, you may not be at all interested in the dilution of your practices and their inherent message to others. This is fine and a choice your organization has, as long as you are able to reckon with "the laws of the land" (particularly as pertain to employment), potential "social fallout" and perhaps even the leanings of your funders.

If your organization IS interested in furthering your competence around issues of religious diversity, begin by becoming aware and understanding of the prevalent religions and religious practices in your community. Then consider implementation of best practices for religious diversity:

1. Strive to schedule meetings and other events for dates and times that do not conflict with religious holidays.

2. Accommodate religious observances, as practical, when scheduling staff and volunteers.

3. Provide a quiet place in your facility for volunteers and employees to practice religious observances. (These accommodations should be compatible with employee-related wage and hour laws regarding meals and breaks.)

4. Plan celebrations that are inclusive, including choice of decorations, speeches, songs, food, entertainment, etc.

5. Implement a policy regarding public prayer, observance of silence, moments of quiet reflection, etc.

(This article largely drawn from a memo issued by the national office of American Red Cross; December 2003)

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