Episode #084 – Building an Inclusive Culture at Your Volunteer Organization with Advita Patel

Tobi: Welcome to the Volunteer Nation podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity, cause, membership, or movement, I made this podcast just for you. Welcome everybody to another episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast.

I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and I have such a treat today. First of all, we are beaming to you from sunny Southern Portugal, and I’m joined with one of my fellow entrepreneurial mastermind participants. We participate in a group together. We’ve known each other, how long now Advita?

Advita: Six months.

Tobi: Well, this has been our first opportunity to meet in person with our fellow entrepreneurs. There’s about, I think 20 of us down here and we got to talking, and Advita has very special skills and knowledge around inclusion and inclusive workplaces. And I know for many of you out there in the volunteer space, building a volunteer environment, that’s inclusive, boosting diversity, equity, and inclusion, making sure we have a level playing field for anybody who wants to contribute their time and talent, those are things that we’re all been struggling with.

And I’ve been hearing that a lot from our VolunteerPro members as well as others. And so, I thought, wait a minute, I brought my podcast equipment, although we have a little bit of a different mic. So it may sound a little bit different today. But I thought, I aske Advita if she’d like pinch hit today and she said, yes!

Advita: I’m excited.

Tobi: So, let me introduce you first before we get off to the races. Sound good?

Advita: Sounds great.

Tobi  Advita Patel is an internal comms and employee experience expert. Obviously, I’ve kind of explained that, but she really focuses on inclusive cultures and she works with organizations, larger and smaller, and is also a very long-term volunteer and volunteer leader. So, she knows what y’all are up to.

She’s founder of Comms Rebel. She’s co-founder of A Leader Like Me. She’s also co-founder of Calm Edged Rebels. So, she’s got a lot going on in her life.

And I want to talk more about what you know and what you might advise others on around, especially inclusive cultures, but we’re going to just let this take it where it goes, this conversation, but let’s before we even kick it off, just tell me a little bit about you and what you do a little bit more than what I’ve already said.

Advita: Thanks, Tobi. I’m excited to be talking with you today. What an opportunity. So, Comms Rebel is the business I started in January 2020. I started it because I wanted to help organizations revolutionize the way they communicate, so they can help their colleagues belong and thrive in their work.

And prior to that, I worked in various different corporations for 18 years as an internal communication specialist, but I recognized that there was so much more leaders could do to make a difference. And I knew that I had a greater purpose. So in January, 2020, I left my role and I started Comms Rebel.

And as we all know, the pandemic hit.

Tobi: Good timing, girl.

Advita: Great timing. But during that pandemic, it taught me a lot around what people want and what people need to succeed in organizations and where the barriers were for success. And one of the challenges I saw in organizations was that leaders struggled to articulate how they wanted their colleagues to perform and how to build a culture of inclusion. Because if you belong and you feel included, you’re going to do better work.

Tobi: Yeah, for sure.

Advita: That’s a given. And if you feel that you can contribute and you know what your value add is, you have loyalty to the organization. And the same applies to voluntary sectors. You know, if you can, if you can help the people who volunteer, understand their purpose and also make them feel included and help them belong, they’re going to volunteer more time and are going to add value in the right way.

So that was my, that’s where Comms Rebel came from. And then around this, around the Comms Rebel time when the pandemic hit, my co-founder of A Leader Like Me, Priya Bates, and I had a conversation around seeing leaders who looked like us in senior roles, and we realized that the reason we probably didn’t stay in corporations as long as we should have probably stayed was because we never saw women, one thing, but South Asian women in CEO positions, we just never did.

So we created a second organization called A Leader Like Me, where we worked with underrepresented women to help build confidence in their work and worthiness. So, they could stick up for themselves basically and put the hand up and go, actually, I deserve better. You know, I’m not just going to stay here and allow you to behave this way towards me. I know I deserve better. I know I can do better. And this is how I can build my confidence to get there.

And that’s what A Leader Like Me was. We’ve now transitioned A Leader Like Me into a global consultancy since writing the book.

So, the book is called Building a Culture of Inclusion, which I know we’ll talk about later. And that book has given Priya and I a global perspective on what’s needed in voluntary sectors and in organizations in terms of inclusion. And that book has done very well.

Tobi: Congrats on that!

Advita: Thank you. Yes. It’s been one of the Amazon bestsellers, which we’re thrilled about.

Tobi:Yeah. And I remember when you beat out Seth Godin. Now if you don’t know who Seth Godin is gang, he’s a very well known, one of the most. probably famous marketers in the world. And I remember when you were posting in our WhatsApp group, I remember when you said I busted past, I was like, go girl!

So she knows her stuff gang. And so we’ll talk later about how to grab that book if you’d like, and you should. But let’s talk about volunteerism as well, because I know that you. You volunteer currently.

Advita: I do.

Tobi: And you’ve had a long-lived experience as a volunteer.

Advita: I have, yeah.

Tobi: Tell us about that.

Advita: So, I started to volunteer for my membership body, which is the Chartered Institute of Public Relations 12 years ago, because I wanted to learn from others, I wanted to contribute back to the industry, and I also wanted to build confidence in my own skill set.

And I remember, so if anyone’s familiar with, you know, if you have any UK listeners or if you’ve been to the UK, I’m from a city in the UK called Manchester. And everything tends to happen in the capital, London. So, I remember getting on the train after work. So, at four o’clock in the, in the afternoon, I jumped on the train to London.

It’s two and a half hour journey to attend the first AGM, the annual general meeting that the volunteer group had and the chair at the time, which is Jenny Field, who’s also one of our Round Table members and also one of my best friends. She asked for volunteers to support the objectives that they wanted to deliver over the next 12 months.

And I very shyly put my hand up because I was really shy. I was very shy, honestly, this is what I mean. This is what the volunteering did for me though. Cause I didn’t know who I was before I volunteered for the CIPR, and I didn’t really have a sense of an identity in the industry, in the comms industry.

The challenge was, Tobi, that I never saw people like me in PR and communications. You know, it’s a very middle-class organization or industry, I should say, where there’s lots of privilege for lots of people. The first time I saw a woman of color in the PR world that I worked with was seven years after I joined the industry.

Tobi: Wow. That’s long!

Advita: And because I’m up in Manchester, not in the city, it’s a little bit different. You know, the demographics are very different there. So, I knew I needed to build my community, to build confidence, to expand my knowledge. I knew that I had to step outside of my comfort zone and go and volunteer.

And that’s why, I have volunteered for 12 years and worked my way through the voluntary, the volunteering kind of roles. So, I became chair of the committee that I initially volunteered for and then became a board member. And now in 2025, I will be the president and the first person of color in the 75 year history to be president.

Tobi: 75 freaking years. That’s a trailblazer!  Does it make you nervous?

Advita: You know, I’m very proud that I have led the way, I suppose, so I can give hope to others who may identify themselves with me to think I can go there and be there. But there is also an element of nervousness, right?

You know, it’s a big undertaking to lead an institution like the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and being the first person of color to take that position. Not only woman of color, but the person of color. So, I’ve had a lot of, ,I’ve had incredible well wishes from so many different industries, specialists and experts, but I’ve also had a lot of people like me who are marginalized and underrepresented messaged me going, you’re giving me hope.

You know, letting people like that down is a fear and I want to do them proud. I want them to feel hope and I want them to put themselves forward for any voluntary opportunities that may come their way, because cognitive diversity is really important, but as is demographic diversity, right? We need to make sure that we have a range of views, a range of lived experiences so we can contribute to the best of our knowledge to help other people thrive.

If everybody has a very similar lived experience, especially in the voluntary sector, you’re not doing the industry or the institution any justice.

Tobi: Yeah, there was, I’ll link to this in the show notes. There was a study by Helen Trimble a couple of years ago in the UK, where she did qualitative interviews with volunteers, we, it was an episode on the Time and Talent podcast. Gang, I’ll post this link in the show notes.

And she found that volunteers of color experienced microaggression. It was a pretty heartbreaking read, honestly. And I interviewed her and one of the volunteers that she interviewed who was a person of color.

And she found also that volunteers felt a sense of duty and responsibility for caring for other fellow volunteers of color. And it added additional burden to their, not that they didn’t want to do it, but it is additional burden, emotional, emotional work. Uh, there’s a fair amount of emotional work in that. And so, you know, I can see that as you come into this role, I can imagine that.

There is some pressure when you’re the first because you’re trying to trailblaze and, and that’s a response, a different level of responsibility, breaking the ice or breaking the ceiling is a pretty intense, well, maybe it’s not intense for you?

Advita: No, it’s intense. You know, there’s there’s definitely intense, there’s, there’s two things to this, right? There’s this not wanting to let down people who look at you in hope and feel that, oh my goodness, if she is. I’m going to be the president of this institution, then I can go there as well. And I can be there. So it’s not that leader like me, you know, you see a leader like you, you think, wow, I belong. Yeah. I know I can belong.

And the second, I suppose, fear is the kind of naysayers who believe that I may not be as qualified or as experienced as I should be, or I may not have that lived experience of what they expect as a senior volunteer. To have to almost prove them wrong.

And I don’t need to prove anyone wrong, but you have this kind of mental, emotional attachment because you’ve, I’ve lived in a world where I’m the minority all the time. I grew up in the, I was born in the UK. I grew up in the UK. I’m a marginalized minority. I am. So, I’ve always been, I’ve never been in the dominant culture. You know, don’t know what that’s like.

So, I’ve always been the only one often in rooms, especially in the industry, I decided to working. And then when you become something like this in a senior volunteer role as a president, there’s a lot of eyes on you.

You know, there’s a lot of eyes on you and a lot of people are waiting to see what you’re going to do. How are you going to change things? There’s a lot of responsibility. And you know, that survey, that research, sorry, that you spoke about, I can imagine. A lot of people, underrepresented people, and particularly people of color, feeling that sense of responsibility to help others like them thrive.

And it’s not that you don’t want to, it’s not that you feel like you have to, but you’re naturally inclined to. Because when you’re othered all of the time, you want to protect and that protection then puts that mental turmoil on you. In terms of, I don’t want them to ever feel that they don’t belong in this space because I want the industry to thrive.

Tobi: And I think that’s important for people who have privilege. To understand, you know, I know folks want to diversify their volunteer core. We hear about it all the time, but I also think people need to acknowledge that it’s both an opportunity for people to have a more level playing field, but the playing field never really is level, per se, there’s still additional burden and to find ways to be empathetic to that, to be supportive of that overly so in some cases, I think to try to level, but it’s never going to be. Well, I’m not going to say it’s never going to be, but at the current moment in history. It’s not level, not until, you know, not until the policies and the laws and all of that kind of stuff change, which is difficult for an individual to do.

Advita: Right. So you have to try and see what you can do within your voluntary role to help people feel more included. And that’s all about, you know, when I put my manifesto together as president, there were three key things I really wanted to establish.

One is friction free learning, you know, so it should be accessible. There shouldn’t be any, any kind of hurdles to jump over, you know, it needs to be available for those who may have socioeconomic challenges, social mobility.

The second bit was around building inclusive culture. So, what does that feel like? So, you mentioned about the research that Helen did around microaggressions and behaviors that are poor because there is this level of privilege to be a volunteer.

And not everyone can be a volunteer, you know, if you’ve got family commitments, you don’t have the money to spare to go and do some of the voluntary activities, you don’t have the time, there is privilege and we all have privilege, you know, that’s important to recognize that and it’s just, it’s important to kind of think about what, what do I do as an individual on a personal level to make sure that people that come and join our community, they feel that they’re contributing and they feel valued and they feel included and what am I doing to help them do that?

Tobi: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. I think that it’s interesting. We were talking before we started recording a little bit earlier today when we’re having lunch, let’s talk about why is volunteerism, and especially inclusive volunteerism, and maybe define inclusive, what we mean by inclusive culture, both generally, but also as it relates to volunteerism and why is that important aside from sort of the politically correct, like perfunctory?

I hear this a lot. Our volunteers need to match the communities they serve. And that may or may not be true. You know, it may or may not be true when we just think on a moral level of like inclusivity, if people want to contribute, they should be able to contribute.

Right. And there are barriers to people contributing? There’s also the value of what volunteerism can give people in terms of mental, physical health, as you said, your own confidence building stuff on your resume, you name it. There’s a lot of benefit to be gained from being a volunteer as well as like social, you know, more social capital in your life.

There’s just like a lot. So for in your mind, first, let’s start, let’s start with inclusive. What is inclusive culture? And then let’s talk about why does it matter so much in volunteerism in particular?

Advita: So an inclusive culture is where anyone can be anything they want to be and do their job in the best way without any barriers or blockers in the way. So, you should be able to go into the workplace or voluntary sector and be who you need to be to deliver the work that you need to do without any, any bias or any microaggression or any blockers or barricades or anything like that. And you’re treated equitably from other people around you without you feeling you have to hide any part of yourself.

And that’s the way I look at inclusion. So, inclusion is what are we doing despite their demographic, despite their lived experiences, despite their education? Are we treating this person as fairly as we possibly can to make sure that they feel included in the decisions that we’re making? And are they, are they be able to contribute that?

What are we saying because they don’t look like us and they don’t have similar accent to us, or they don’t have the same skin color as us. They don’t get the opportunity to be included in our discussion, even work style. I think if you think about neurodiverse folk, yeah, there’s a lot about work style or communication style that can have, there can be barriers to folks when it comes to that as well.

Tobi: Yeah. When you say equitably flush that out a little bit more for me.

Advita: People are treated equitably. That’s different than just having a level playing field, it’s a different concept. Cause everyone starts at a different start point you know? To the discussion that we had before that it’s going to take a long time for us to everybody to be on equal level because our circumstances are so different for some people I’ve grown up in a home where there’s not been hot water, electricity.

There’s some people are growing at home with no carers. You know, where parents have made sure there’s food on the table, things like that. Some people have grown up with bias all their lives and stereotypes. So, and this is why I would love to believe that, in the future, everybody will be on the same playing field and everyone will have the equal opportunity.

It doesn’t matter where they come from. We’re so far away from that now. I feel like it’s going backwards right now. We really are. You know, we are, if you think about the debates, the discussions, the arguments that we have about fairness. So, I will always say, let’s talk about equitable behaviors. So, there will be some people who need more help than others.

Like we talk about if English is your second language, then that individual may need some additional support in understanding what the policy needs for the voluntary sector. So you may need to put it in audio format, or you might put it in a slide deck rather than a heavy written word document.

You may break it down a little bit. You might even translate it to help them. That’s equitable treatment because you recognize what their barriers and blockades are, and you’ve made sure that they’ve got the things that they need to do the work that they have to do, and that’s the same with neurodivergence.

So, anyone who’s neurodiverse, you know, they may need additional support in terms of clear instructions. So, what is it that you need them to do? You know, metaphors and things like that don’t work very well. You’ve got to be literal with some people. We have this discussion about introverts and extroverts, a label that I hate, but we need to also make sure that our biases are not labeling those individuals, thinking, oh, they’re quiet and introverted.

So, they may not want to do that. And it’s giving everyone that kind of, it’s taking a person on a individual basis. And this is where leaders in the voluntary sector lead to play of heart. So doing a broad-brush approach because they’re all volunteers and they all started at the same place. No, they’re not.

Tobi: That’s a really good. I mean, repeat that.

They’re all volunteers and people believe that they all started at the same place, but they have not. They have not started at the same place. They’re not coming to your organization necessarily. Some people have a leg up. Some people have volunteered before some, some people have had bad experiences with volunteers could have some past trauma from volunteerism.

Some people may only have two hours. Some people may have 10 hours. Some people may have money, so they don’t need to claim any expenses back. Some people may have no money. So the need to have expenses claim back. Some people may have privilege in terms of education. Other people may not. You know, everyone starts at a different level.

And sometimes what drives us to be volunteers is our passion. You know, our passion puts us in that space because we want to help that community thrive or the industry thrive or membership thrive, whatever it is that you’re doing. And sometimes our biases can play a big part. Um, in other people who are maybe different from us, because we then believe, Oh, well, they possibly can’t know anything about what we’re doing because they don’t have a similar lived experience to me.

What do they possibly know? It’s not enough to just say, Oh, I’ve worked hard to recruit a variety of people that are participating. And I know a lot of people say that they match that match the community I’m trying to serve, that kind of thing. That’s just not going to do it. No, that’s not, that’s just a perfunctory step one.

Tobi: Yeah, it’s not really, it’s going to take work and resource. And so, folks, we’re going to get into more practical stuff right after the break, but let me just, before we, before we break, because this is, does take resource. It does take work. You know, people ask me sometimes kind of sprinkle in, why don’t you include some diversity in your work with, with my organization?

And I’ll say, because. I’m happy. I’m very supportive, but I’m not an employee or a volunteer workplace inclusivity expert. It is an expertise y’all, you know, it’s a, it’s a level of skillset that people built over their lifetime, both professionally and also through their lived experience. It’s not something that we should just treat lightly. It’s a professional skill set.

So folks need to, I think organizations, if they want to go this route, and I hope they do, what’s the ROI for them? What’s the return on investment aside from doing the right thing? We would, we would assume, and I know this is a huge assumption that not nonprofits by the very fact that they’re in the, you know, charities are in the helping professions and whatnot, that they would want to do this, that they would want to become more inclusive.

But you know, it takes investment when the buck stops, the buck stops. So what’s the ROI in addition to that, aside from doing the right thing?

Advita: Yep. Loyalty. So, when you get loyalty, you get consistency and when you have consistency, you get results. And when people feel included and they feel like they belong and they’re adding the value and they get treated well, you’ll get all of that.

Performance is a big one. You know, so you have a lot of people and I’m sure some of your listeners have probably relate where you have people volunteering, but they’re not actually contributing. So why are they not contributing? What is the challenge? What’s holding them back? Do they not feel heard? Do they feel ignored?

Do they feel like there’s too much, are you leaning on them more heavily than other volunteers because of their differences, you know, you do believe that because they are underrepresented, for example, that they may want to contribute more to belong. And sometimes we unconsciously do this.

Tobi:  Ooh, say that again.

Advita: So, if sometimes we lean on marginalized and underrepresented people, because we believe that they’ll want to contribute more, in order to belong, and sometimes we know that they won’t say no.

Tobi: Oh, that is truth. That is truth right there. Something to think about gang. I also think when you just said, you mentioned the time that people can commit, I know with COVID and just since COVID and, and even before COVID happened, the level of volunteering, the amount of, first of all, there’s been a real down dip in volunteerism.

Organizations are fighting to start to build back, but also. They’re having a hard time finding long-term committed volunteers. Folks want to do episodic, one off, project based. They want to keep it light. Keep it, they don’t want to sign, “ sign their lives away.” And when our organizations insist that the volunteer roles can only be performed in a certain way, in a certain time frame, and they’re pretty rigid on that, then that is an exclusionary practice, would you say?

Advita: Yeah, it is. Yeah, because you’re not giving people the flexibility that they need or want in order to contribute. And if you don’t feel, I’m all about, if it’s not bringing you joy and you don’t feel the joy, I mean, not saying that you have to feel joy 24 seven. And I mean, that’s unrealistic, but you should be able to say, I feel joyful doing this. I feel fulfilled doing this and I can see where my contribution is making a difference. And when you are in a very rigid framework that hasn’t changed in the last 50 years, Because this is the way we’ve always done it, culturally, you are going to turn away the generation who needs that flexibility.

Tobi: Yeah. Who doesn’t have the luxury of having a very rigid 10 hours a week, otherwise you can’t volunteer. Yeah. And I think that absolutely, even folks who are retired. You know, sometimes they still need to work part time. They they’re caring for their grandkids, you know, their kinship care. There’s all kinds of, when people have, don’t, don’t have as much means, there’s plenty of responsibility, even when they were retired, right?

Advita: They live with their families, you know, they have a responsibility in a, in a larger extended family household, whatever. So I think that’s important for people to think about if your organization is rigid about its requirements for volunteers. I think you have to take a good hard look at the fact and admit to yourself that you are being exclusionary.

And you have to decide, are we going to continue to be this way? And pretty much, you know, you may become obsolete because people are just not going to go there. You pay the consequences. And you can’t, you can’t complain on one hand and go, we’re not attracting a diverse range of volunteers.

And we keep getting a similar type, but when you keep getting the same type of same type of thought and people, then you don’t see innovation. You don’t see innovation, you can’t see why people are not donating to the, either if you’re a charity or, or a membership or whatever. Why are people not signing up as members?

Why are people not donating more money to this charity? It’s because you’re not communicating to the audience that you need to communicate because you haven’t got that innovative style that you need because the volunteers that you all have are all exactly the same and all exactly the same background, all exactly the same characters.

It’s like, you know, we  spoke just offline about payments. You know, expenses people don’t and can afford, especially since a pandemic, to be honest, the travel fee or, you know, buying lunch or whatever, so we need to look in a voluntary sector that how do we make sure that for social mobility, we are not excluding people by saying that you can’t claim expenses.

Tobi: It’s, little things like that that make a big difference. And in the Time Well Spent study with NCVO, they found that being out of pocket or being unreimbursed for expenses was a significant factor for volunteers to not volunteering anymore.

So, I’m not talking, gang, about paying people stipends. That’s a whole other story. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying if someone’s out of pocket or whatever, it’s, you know, I think people need to help people with childcare too in some ways. There needs to be innovation around that. But yeah, just the, the, and, and folks think, you know, it’s just, it’s not a big deal to pay for your own lunch.

Advita: Well, if you pay for your own lunch every three days a week or twice a week or even once a week, it adds up.

Tobi: Well, let’s take a quick break and we’ll, when we come back, we’re going to get a little bit more practical at Vita’s got some tips for us. So, you can start taking a few steps towards really becoming more inclusive, building that inclusive culture for volunteers because gang, this is beyond like the time to do this and we really need to lean into it.

And if you’re a leader of volunteers, it’s kind of your job to lead the way, and maybe these tips and the conversation today will help you start having the conversation and managing upward. And if you’re an executive director who’s listening, I’m hoping these tips will help you, too.

So, we will be right back with Advita Patel talking about focus on inclusive cultures and volunteers. We’ll be right back.

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All right, everybody, we’re talking about inclusive cultures with Advita Patel and we’ve had such a great conversation so far. This has been fun!

Advita: It’s been great.

Tobi: But we’re going to get into the practical now because Advita has massive wisdom, massive value to share. So, I want to just talk about practical tips. Folks will say, we want to diversify our volunteer corps. We want to have more diversity, equity, and inclusion in our volunteer roles. We also know, I will just say in our field, I do our state of the industry report every year, it’s going to come up soon again.

And we find that the majority of people who are leading volunteers in our field. are educated white women, just like me, right? And so, but these educated white women, many of them want to do the right thing. So, what are, what’s the first step, or what’s the way people could approach this, do you think?

Advita: So, the first step is always reviewing your data. So, what is your data telling you? So where, what’s your data telling you? And what does that data then help explain to you? I should say is where your gaps are. So, you need to start with data every time when you’re looking at inclusive cultures, because you don’t know what you don’t know.

And often we make assumptions. So we make assumptions that we are struggling to recruit people of color. But actually, when you look at your data set, you may find that we’re actually okay in terms of the statistics of how many people are, but where we are struggling is people with disability or people with sexuality. Is that so?

It’s important to try and gather as much data as you possibly can, including quantitative and qualitative. So, make sure that you do the research in terms of looking at your incredible research stuff, Tobi, that you do external, but also in terms of asking questions of your volunteers.

So, you know, what  works for us here? What doesn’t work for us here? Have you noticed there’s a gap in your sector in terms of, diversity and inclusion, and what does that mean for you? So, once you have that knowledge, you can then start building out a platform.

Tobi: So, if folks, I don’t think folks when volunteers come on board and I think they feel a little bit squeamish about, for example, on the volunteer application, putting demographic questions and to what extent demographic questions.

I know in our volunteer management progress report, it is nearly impossible for me to come up with a set of. And we only do race ethnicity because there are a variety of other questions you could ask and to do that for a global audience is almost impossible because the language, the, so we do the best we can and we just assume that we will have complaints and that it’s better to do it and have complaints than not do it at all, right?

Advita: But for volunteer involving organizations, I think sometimes they worry that if they include demographic questions on their application or their intake, that there will be an appearance of discrimination. Or an appearance of bias in some way. And they’re afraid of that.

Tobi: How do you suggest people gather that data, not only for race, ethnicity, things that are more quote unquote obvious, because they’re not always obvious, but you know, neurodiversity, sexual orientation, gender, those kinds of things?

Advita: Well, there’s two ways. First of all, you need to explain the why. So, when you have it as part of your voluntary application, you need to be very clear. And why you’re gathering this data and it’s often because you want to make sure that you’re being fair and people will appreciate that. So that’s one thing.

The other thing is to make it anonymous. You don’t need the names. So, it’s separate form, separate than the application.   Because the application form has to have it. Application form has the details, but you have a separate form that can, you don’t need to have any names or anything like that on there.

Just, just for you to understand where are you. So, you can make it completely anonymous. You don’t need to know really at this stage, especially if you’re right at the start of your journey, who that person is. So, you give them choice. So, people want to put the name on, fair. People don’t want to put the name on, fine.

All you need to know really as a voluntary organization is what is our demographic and are we representative of the publics that we serve? And if not, what are the gaps? And also, the other thing I would ask volunteers, senior volunteers think about is that what’s the fear of people filling it in. So, if they’re not filling it in, is there because there’s a reputation that you are biased?

Is there a reputation that people believe that if they’ve put their true identity on those forms, that then you will not accept them for who they are. And that’s a communication challenge and there’s something going on in that sector that’s not allowing people to believe that you’re truly doing this for the greater good.

Yeah. I think too, it’d be great. It’d be a great opportunity if you don’t have baseline in your organization is to survey not only the demographics across these wide pillars of or areas of difference. But also to ask people, say, Hey, we’re moving forward with this inclusivity initiative. We need to get a baseline.

We realized we haven’t asked. And by the way, could, and then maybe ask a couple more questions about, and all anonymous, tell us about your experience. rate. How connected do you feel? Do you believe your work makes a difference here? Do you feel like you belong? Have you ever experienced people treating you unfairly based on who you are?

Just ask a few questions and just take the temperature to get started. And I think people would be more than happy to, as long as it’s anonymous and they know there’s no, you know, Again, people could, you know, you could always put at the end too, if you want to talk to somebody about this in more detail, put your name and email and we’ll get in touch.

There’s no, we’ll keep it on the down low, you know, exactly. The challenge we have is that sometimes inclusion can be weaponized.

Tobi: Yes. Especially in the U. S. I’m sorry, but yes. And it can be weaponized into not doing something. And I’m like, you know, you’ve got to look at what your purpose is here, and you need to understand the why. And if you don’t measure and you don’t track and you don’t know, then how can you bring change? Yeah. You’re making massive assumptions.

Advita: Yeah, you’re, you’re probably leaning on one or two people who are vocal and are sharing their, their experience. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true. I’m not saying it isn’t true, but you need to get a wide range of views to understand actually what investment do we need to make to ensure that we’re being as inclusive as we can, especially if we want to continue thriving.

Tobi: As a voluntary sector, because they’re going to come a moment in time if you don’t make any changes and you don’t accept the fact that inclusion is a big part of what we do that people don’t want to volunteer. Well, I don’t have causality here. I don’t have data on whether or not it’s true, but maybe that’s one of the reasons the sector is struggling now.

Advita: You know, part of it, I think is COVID and people’s PTSD from COVID and exhaustion and every, you know, quiet quitting and all of it, but people don’t quite quit on, on their friends and colleagues when they feel like they belong, you don’t quite quit on people that you care about. Like you just don’t, you  know you’re there for them all the time.

You know, you’re happy to go above and beyond for people that you believe value you for you and where you can see your contributions have made a difference. You know, I have a theory in my life that I want to leave the world in a much better place than when I entered it. And I want to make, and that applies to all parts of my life.

So, the people that I meet on a daily basis, I want to make sure that once I had a conversation with me. They feel better about themselves. And that’s where the voluntary thing comes for, you know, volunteering with the CIPR it’s a lot, it’s a big-time commitment, you know, especially when you’re running three businesses, you’ve got clients to deliver against and timelines and family commitments, volunteer and being a president, you’re leading the institution in that way.

I know that I am included. I feel like I can belong and I’ve, and my contributions have been valued and that makes me want to show up every day. And as soon as, and I haven’t, I’m not saying that my journey in volunteering has been seamless and smooth. It hasn’t. I’ve had fallouts and disagreements and frustration just like anyone else, because I, and when those things have happened to me, that’s when I felt excluded.

And when people have made me feel excluded and have questioned my commitment. And we have to be very cautious that words are quite powerful and they can cause harm. And if you’re not a good communication professional in terms of the way you communicate, then add questions. Should you be a leader?

Tobi: Oh, call it, preach it girl. That’s calling it out!

Yeah. So really think about like, if you’re not willing to improve your communication, leadership may not be your bag. It may not be. And you have to admit that not everyone can be a leader and that’s okay. That’s okay. Like not everyone can do it.

And if you’re not willing to learn how to communicate effectively and learn how to communicate with courage and learn how to communicate inclusively, you’re not bothered about that, not bothered about people. Then should you be a volunteer, especially in the voluntary sector? Should you be a leader?

Tobi: So, two tips I’m hearing here so far. One is data. Don’t base all of your assumptions on the squeaky wheels and people who are the most, you know, sometimes grumpy.

Advita: Yeah, sometimes just opinionated sometimes completely valid and what they most the time completely valid. It’s just sometimes the way people communicate and we got to accept that sometimes

Tobi: And then the second tip I’m hearing is if you want to really get into this, you’re going to need to invest in the way that you communicate, you’re going to, you’re going to need to change how you lead.

I’ve been a leader for a long time in our sector and, you know, was a program director and came up through the ranks through nonprofits, ran many programs. And I remember recruiting a very diverse team. When I took this job, it was the goal of the or part of the goal of the program to have a very diverse staff and my leadership. No one coached me at all about and I was a new leader. No one coached me at all about the way I would have to change my leadership in order to lead an extremely diverse team.

I mean, diverse in every single way you can imagine. And I failed. I just didn’t I was at odds with my team. A lot of the time I felt like, you know, I was alone. I felt like I, you know, the only way to lead was command and control top down, which does not work with diverse teams. But I knew no other way of, you know, collaborative leadership, participatory leadership.

And so, it was a  really painful experience, but it was also such a learning and it happened, early in my career. So, it really helped me change the way I think about, you know, and you can have all the diverse friends in your life that you want, and I do, but that doesn’t always translate to the workplace.

Advita: No, no. And the difference in the workplace is that you’re all there aligning with the mission, the purpose and the values. So, you may have different lived experiences, cognitive diversity, demographic diversity, but ultimately you’re aligning to the similar values, right? Right. And as a leader, you need to make sure that people are following you.

So, you need to be good at influencing and you need to have impact. And you need to decide on how you were going to do that. You know, dictatorship is not going to work with a diverse team. And when you’re stressed, you know, everybody reacts differently in the workplace when you’re non-stressed people react differently when they’re stressed, they act differently.

Tobi: And when I was under stress to, you know, start up this new program and get it off the ground and be accountable to our funders and do do do, I just like narrow down to let’s get it done. People get on the bus, you know, and people are like, wait a minute, I’m not being heard. And I’m like, we don’t have time for anybody to be heard.

We need to get this thing done. Yeah. You know, and my like Type A personality was just, And so it’s, it felt efficient to me, but in the end it was really inefficient because I left. They had to get another leader in and it just, the program didn’t progress as quickly as it could have if I would have invested the time early on to understand my team better, to be able to lead more in a more participatory way.

Advita: And, you know, there’s just a lot, a lot of learning there. And you’re so right in terms of, you know, so the third tip is, is understanding your knowledge gaps. So, what are my gaps in, you know, personally and professionally, you know, in terms of my personal education, where are my gaps in terms of understanding some of the communities that I want to bring in and under the volunteer banner?

So, do I know enough about the black community? Do I know enough about indigenous communities? You know, do I need to learn a little bit more about LGBTQ+? You know, what do I need to understand a little bit more and educate myself so I can figure out what I need to contribute? And be that ally if you want to be for that community so you can champion them.

So, understanding that on a personal level. So what personal accountability am I going to take to ensure that I am learning every day and unlearning some of the stuff that we may have. And this applies to everybody, regardless of gender, sexuality, you know, religion, all that. We have all learned something that is being brought to us through the communities and the environment that we’ve grown up in. And we all have biases. And it’s often not clear to us right now.

Tobi: No, it isn’t. And it’s unconscious.

Advita: It’s very, it can be very subconscious and it can be quite unconscious in some people because it’s a norm. If you grew up in a household where they believe, Latinx, for example  they’re sneaking through the border all the time and they’re taking all our jobs and all that, you will probably have that bias in you until you make friends in that community, until you are part of that community, then it can actually see the realism of what’s going on.

And that is a part of our role as allies is to educate others in our communities for them to learn more. Otherwise, we can’t progress. And that’s, you know, the professional side is also looking to your point, Tobi, when you were like, I didn’t really succeed in that role at a time early in my career, cause I didn’t have the support I needed at that point is going, right. What support do I need? I need a mentor or do I need a coach? How do I fight for funding to help me grow? Cause the return on investment is if I don’t succeed, the cost. That’s going to be added to this work is going to be beyond just replacing employees. It’s like a third of their salary. It’s so expensive.

It costs, keeping talent and retaining talent and keeping them motivated as soon as those people go, the money it costs. And that’s what we, you know, I will always help leaders and people who want to persuade leaders in looking at the bottom line, whether you’re a voluntary sector, whether you’re a corporation.

Money is what makes that business. It is a business. It makes it even if it’s nonprofit. Even if it’s not, you need to make money, you need to make cash to help.  And if you can’t make cash, then what are you doing? Yeah. You know, whether it’s profit or not profit doesn’t matter. It’s still cash and your volunteers will help you drive that.

And if you’re not helping them, then, you know, what is the point? So look at your gaps, right. In terms of your own development and be self-aware. And be real and be honest and it’s uncomfortable. That is one thing I will say to your listeners. It is uncomfortable. Yes. Holding a mirror up and looking at where you may have contributed unfairly to making other people feel excluded, that takes a lot of work and it’s difficult.

And to admit the fact that you got it wrong, but you’re learning. Courage.  And you know what, the, but the, the more you admit, just know from, I know from experience, the more you admit your failures, the easier it gets. It really does.

But you will make mistakes. There’s no way, even if you and I would, I would add that don’t expect representatives from the groups that you want to, whether they’re in your volunteer corps or not, to explain to you how it all works in their culture, like your education, needs to come on your own.

You can’t ask other people to step up and do that or take responsibility for recruiting a bunch of other people from their community into your organization. That’s not their responsibility either. Unless that’s the role you’ve recruited for them for. And they’ve like said, yeah, that’s what I want to do.

Tobi: Yeah. I think it’s true. You will make mistakes, but I always feel like the more. You know, I like, I just like the three, three words I like to say, tell me more. Yeah. Just tell me more. Tell me more about that. I want to understand that. I don’t get that. Yeah. What did I do? I’ve had people, I had a client once tell me like, look, I think you’re being It’s not treating me the same as my White counterpart.

She was an African American woman. And I said, really? I go, tell me about that. I want to understand that. And we became very good friends and I worked for her for years after that. And if she would not have told me, I also recognize like, look, she’s taking a major risk stepping out and telling me this.

So any, anytime anybody does you the favor of stepping out and saying like, look, I’m going to have to call you out on this, is I’m right, you know, first of all, be really grateful because it’s, it’s a risk they’re taking and it’s, and don’t underestimate the trauma that marginalized person is going through to tell you that, trust me, you know, speaking up in a dominant culture where you are already the minority.

Advita: Telling somebody that they’ve got it wrong, or telling somebody that you have made me feel excluded takes so much energy and the trauma it causes, especially if the reaction to that person is defensiveness, sensitivity, so it’s like crying, you know, and throwing the guilt back on, so you feel guilty, you know, you get that kind of, there’s this whole thing about white women, tight tears, as you know, not so long ago.

Uh, and it’s not, and it’s not like you’re not allowed to express your emotion by, but that’s not what we’re saying at all, but it’s being mindful about the guilt you might be putting on that marginalized person for them raising it because they’re raising it because they’ve been hurt. And the fact that you was, you said, which is a brilliant way of saying, you know what? Tell me more.

Yeah. And it’s not if you fail, it’s when, it’s when you fail, because if you want a growth mindset and you want to contribute in the right way, you have to fail. Yeah, you have to put yourself out there. You have to put yourself out there. You have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to accept conversations and constructive feedback and figure out what you’re going to do to be better next time.

And that applies to anyone from any culture, from any background, where they want to be an ally for different groups. I mean, it is the worst feeling being called out. It is. I mean, the, just the gut. I mean, if you care about people, you know, the gut wrenching. I feel nauseous when people call me out. It’s like, Oh, what? You know what? I did it again.

Tobi: You know, I don’t, I don’t get called out a lot gang, but, but when it has happened, it’s a horrible feeling. But I also look at the other person and I think, okay, they get to live this every day. I’m having one moment in like my month or my year where someone has, you know, it’s a completely different, like, so I can handle it.

Advita: And he put it, but the challenge is, is that it evokes shame. And when shame is evoked, you get angry because nobody ever wants to feel shame. And it’s a great break. You know, those of you who don’t know a Brené Brown, you know, she, she’s an incredible vulnerability specialist. You know, she’s a social scientist.

She does a lot in this vulnerability and power space and her book Power of Vulnerability is incredible. And it talks about vulnerability and talks about shame, because when we feel shame and we feel vulnerable, we get defensive and we put the barriers up and the defense mechanism. Then you hear people say, that’s the last time I’m doing that then. I’m not getting involved in that.

And then, you know, when you’re failing with a diverse team, some people go the other way, Tobi, and go, well, this is why I work with people like me, because when I work with people like me, we succeed. So, this is why I don’t like working with people who are different. Cause then I fail rather than thinking, what have I done to cause this failure?

So, when I speak to some leaders and you look around the boardroom table and they’re all men of a certain age and a certain race, it’s because they feel comfortable, nobody likes to be uncomfortable with people who are different from them and that’s really interesting.

And if you, and this is a test out. So one of the other tips is a test, right? So look around your table. And look at the, look at the age, look at the sexuality, look at the gender, look at the race. Is there, is there a pattern of behavior? Education?

You know, even if you’ve all, you know, I’ve not seen an organization, sorry, when I’ve seen leaders come from one particular type of university, they’ve all got the same type of thinking because they’ve been taught by the same lecturer or the same teacher.

So they believe in the same way of what the end result should be. And I mean, in today’s world, the challenges that the nonprofit sector, which is the safety net. After public sector after the private sector, you know, the nonprofit sector is here to pick up the pieces of the problems that nobody else can solve.

Tobi: So the problems that the sector  is tackling now. Sometimes it’s just arts. It’s not just it’s arts and culture and are the problem We’re tackling is, you know, bringing the arts to more people creating a sense of more of a greater sense of community in our Neighborhood or in our you know our region whatever it doesn’t matter if you’re doing like direct service for domestic violence or you’re running an arts and culture organization.

Advita: There’s still a challenge that you are trying to bring resource to the community, trying to solve some problems, etc. Even in a professional association, the problem you’re trying to solve is leveling up. And the connectedness of a profession. There’s always a challenge and it’s, these are, these are not easy challenges when technology is moving quickly, when there’s division in the world, et cetera, et cetera.

And so, you know, if you have this leg up, you know, if you bring in diverse perspectives, you’re going to be more likely. To have more ideas and more, you know, you’re going to keep different perspectives. Somebody’s going to come look at it a completely different way. So it’s a value add. Oh, massive, massive value add.

Tobi:  Massive value add. Okay. This has been fantastic. I’m so excited. You guys, I flew in and Adita and I and another friend of ours were having a drink and just talking. And I said, do you know what? I have my microphone. I’m going to ask, I’m going to suggest something really cheeky. How about I interview you? And she said, yes!

Advita: Loved it. Such a good conversation.

Tobi: So, so let me ask you a couple more questions before we wrap up. You’ve given us great, , I hope gang that you are really feeling a little sense of inspiration, maybe even a sense of courage. It’s okay. You know, it’s okay to, to take a step forward. It’s okay to, you know, the tall trees get the wind. And it’s just how it is. It is.

Advita: Yeah. And you know what, when the wind Buffett’s you, your tree, your, your stock, your core gets stronger.

Tobi: So, but what are you most excited about in the year ahead? I know you’ve got a lot going on.

Advita: Yeah. Well, I excited for the presidency role. So, before I become president in 2025, I’m president elect. So, I get to be part of the loan from the, the president’s going to be in 2024 and work with her. So, then we’ve got a bit of a 2025. So, I’m excited to see the industry shift and change. I’m excited to see more representative volunteers step into that space. Cause I feel like, you know, as I said, the belonging and feel included.

I’m also excited about my, the next phase of the book, you know, so that the book that we’ve currently written is all about building inclusive cultures and delivering it through effective communication. You know, Priya and I are now thinking about the second edition and we want to talk about cultural intelligence, which is an incredible part of inclusion.

So we want to, you know, I’m doing lots of research in cultural intelligence and we talk about high EQ. We want to talk about high CQ.

Tobi: So is that on you guys? Did you coin that?

Advita: No, I wish. I wish. I wish I did.

Tobi: I’m like, I have not heard of cultural intelligence. That’s fantastic. Cultural intelligence.

Advita: Yeah. So we’re investigating that because we recognize that there’s lots of different, more global than we ever have been through the technology. There’s crossover in cultures, you know, culture is a big part of who we are and what we stand for as well, professionally and personally. So, we want to kind of think about what does. cultural intelligence look like in a leader and what does that mean and how can we bring that forward a bit more alongside inclusion because we believe the two together.

Tobi: Yeah. Fantastic. I can’t wait. Well, we might have to come, have to have you come back on.

Advita: Yeah. Book two.

Tobi: She’s on. So we’ll link to the book and, and also the Brené Brown book, of course, and, and Helen Trimble’s work, NCVO, all the good stuff we’ve been talking about. So go to the show notes for sure and check out all the resources we have there.

Advita, where can people find you, especially if their organization really wants to do this work? Gang, if your organization wants to do this work, you need to hire Advita.

Advita: Yes, I’m happy to help and support and, and to be honest, you know, if you also are struggling for resources. You want to ask a question, you are worried about something, then my DMS on LinkedIn are open and I keep them open by purpose because I know this work is hard.

I know it can cause fear and I know it’s not always safe for people to ask in a public forum. So, I like to have that opportunity for people to kind of send me a message and go, look, this is the challenge. Do you have any resources? Can you direct me to the right place? Can you help? You know, I, I always want to make myself as accessible as I can.

So, LinkedIn is definitely the place to ask me those types of questions. You go to my website, which is Comms Rebel.com and you can see the various different services that I can offer, but we’ve also got lots and lots of free resources on there as well as from blogs to workbooks to, I do this thing called the User Guide of Me.

So, one of the, if you’re not going to do anything and you just want to do one thing, then I will always say to leaders. Ask this one question of the people that you work with, what do you need from me to help you thrive? What do you need from me to help you thrive? Whether you’re a volunteer leader, whether you’re a leader in an organization, ask that question.

And I do, it’s not my idea. I’ve quoted the source on my, on this grid, but it’s a grid which I encourage leaders to share with their teams and it tells people how you can work with me. So, what hours do I, am I best at? What type of, how, how do I like to be communicated with in terms of meetings? Those kinds of things just to like, cause you know, it’s all about personalization.

If you can, if you can treat people as human beings on an individual basis, rather than a broadcast, then that connection, cause it’s power of connection, right? Inclusion, that connection is much stronger. So yeah, Comms Rebel.com or LinkedIn. And then if you want to know what I’m getting on about in my day-to-day life and Instagram. I’m always sharing a photograph of some sort of thing.

Tobi: She is. I think you guys probably were sharing clinking champagne glasses a couple of nights ago.

Advita: We did, yeah. Show a bit of realism in this life.

Tobi: Alright gang, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much. I think we were planning to talk for half an hour, but I can guarantee you it’s been longer than that.

Advita: Yeah, it definitely has been. Hopefully it’ll fly by when you’re listening.

Tobi: Well, I hope you’ve been inspired folks. If you found this episode helpful, share it with a friend. I think this is a fantastic episode to really share broadly with your professional networks because I think this is such an important thing we need to do. It’s an initiative. It needs to be on everybody’s strategic plan for 2024 and rate and review us so we can keep spreading the word to folks in our community and reach new listeners that don’t even know we exist right now. How about that?

Advita: Yeah. Brilliant.

Tobi: All right. Take care, everybody. We’ll see you next week. Same time. Same place on the Volunteer Nation.

Thanks for listening to this episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe, rate, and review so we can reach people like you who want to improve the impact of their good cause. For more tips and notes from the show, check us out at Tobijohnson.com. We’ll see you next week for another installment of Volunteer Nation.