Culturally Effective Organizations

FRIENDS National Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP) knows that family-serving organizations recognize the importance of serving ALL people well.  FRIENDS National Center seeks to effectively support CBCAP lead agencies and other organizations to meet their responsibility to promote optimal outcomes for all children and families and this includes ensuring services are culturally appropriate and prioritize equity.


While many organizations have strived to assure that their staff members grow in their own cultural competence/responsiveness to successfully navigate cross-cultural interactions with other people, it is insufficient to make this the sole focus.  Assuring that organizations are providing services that are effective, competent, and equitable for all families involves more than a collection of staff members who are all individually culturally responsive.

Throughout this webpage, the term culturally responsive typically refers to individual behavior and skills, and the term cultural effectiveness refers to an organization’s functioning.

The good news is that a roadmap exists to enable, cultivate, and support the delivery of high-quality services for all people.  The Institute for Economic and Racial Equity at Brandeis University offers a framework (Gaiser, et al., 2015) to guide agencies through a process to work towards being a Culturally Effective Organization.  While the framework was initially proposed for healthcare, it is adaptable to most any organization, particularly those serving individuals and families.  The Framework has been compared to organizational cultural competence standards across a wide variety of fields including the national HHS CLAS Standards (Health and Human Services, Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services), and has been found to have broad alignment and applicability.


Equality = Same, Equity = Need

What we Know

The U.S. population is becoming increasingly diverse. Changes in the diversity of communities across the country have prompted a call-to-action for many service providers, as well as funders of support programs, to reduce disparities in the access and utilization of services (Lopéz, Hofer, Bumgarner, & Taylor, 2020).


The effort to provide different levels of support based on an individual’s or group’s needs in order to achieve fairness in outcomes. Working to achieve equity acknowledges unequal starting places and the need to correct the imbalance.   (CSSP, 2019)

Equity is the equal opportunity for everyone to thrive.


The Children’s Bureau makes clear throughout the CBCAP Program Instruction that the program must ensure the meaningful participation of historically underserved and underrepresented groups.  This Framework is one tool to facilitate doing so.  See more on our Diverse Groups page.


Here you will find the seven elements of the framework with resources to assist in exploring each element.  We have strived to provide resources especially for, or easily adapted to, application by state lead agencies, their funded programs, and other organizations working to strengthen families.

Identifying and implementing new systems and practices is a process that requires institutional change at multiple levels.  The Framework for Culturally Effective Organizations is similar to the multi-dimensional processes involved in any effective systems change effort.  There are intersections with Implementation Science and other organizational change models.  Operationalizing improvements in each of the seven elements can be accomplished using continuous quality improvement methods and processes.

The benefits of working to become a Culturally Effective Organization have been shown to include:

  • Improved engagement by program participants and enhanced relationships between participants and practitioners.
  • Improved outcomes for those participants who have historically experienced disparities.
  • Increased sustainability by providing cost-effective, culturally relevant services.

We hope you will find the Culturally Effective Organizations framework with its seven elements, and related supporting resources, helpful in your efforts to build organizational capacity to serve everyone well, as necessary groundwork on the path to equity.

Events in 2020 have inspired reflection, renewed commitment, and action toward recognizing and dismantling racism.  You will find resources throughout the toolkit concerning these important topics.


Executive and board-level leaders play a pivotal role in guiding and modeling cultural effectiveness. Leadership is responsible for creating strategic planning processes and action steps that result in culturally effective organizational practices, policies, and programming that address the needs and preferences of culturally and linguistically diverse groups. There are also community stakeholders that play a critical role in informing and influencing organizational leadership, including funders, researchers, academics, and public health practitioners.

Leadership Action Steps Include:

  • Create goals, objectives, and strategies for executive and mid-level management to achieve culturally effective practices, policies, and programs.
  • Create mission statements, training opportunities, and assessment tools that result in culturally effective outcomes.
  • Use assessment findings to inform management decision-making policies and communication with staff and the community-at-large about the organization’s commitment to diversity and cultural effectiveness.
  • Recruit community members to the board and hire staff that are reflective of the community.


Fixsen, D., Naoom, S., Blase, K., Friedman, R., Wallace, F. (2005). Implementation Research: A Synthesis of the Literature. Tampa, FL: University of South Florida, Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, National Implementation Research Network. NIRN-MonographFull-01-2005.pdf

Grantmaking with a Racial Equity Lens – Grantcraft Practical Wisdom for Grantmakers:

Georgetown University National Center on Cultural Competence. (2020). Retrieved from The Compelling Need for Cultural and Linguistic Competence:

Goode, T., Jones, W. and Mason, J. (2010). A Guide to Planning and Implementing Cultural Competence Organization Self-assessment. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Cultural Competence, Georgetown University Child Development Center.

Policies and Procedures

Culture is in essence an organization’s operating environment: the implicit patterns of behavior, activities, and attitudes—shaped by a shared set of values and beliefs—that characterize the way people work together. In order for any strategic change to be implemented successfully, the organization’s culture needs to be aligned.”

–The Bridgespan Group Strategies for Changing Your Organization’s Culture (2012)

Organizations take a systemic approach to formalizing their commitment to cultural effectiveness through written policies and procedures. Policies and procedures articulate how an organization conducts itself and fosters an environment of accountability, continuous learning, and development.

Potential action steps, listed below, incorporate culturally effective strategies. These include employing an equity frame to review organizational policies, procedures, and creating culturally responsive employee hiring & appraisal systems.

Policies and Procedures Action Steps Include:

  • Create an ongoing process to review and update policies and procedures to ensure that they demonstrate a commitment to organizational cultural effectiveness.
  • Review job descriptions to assure that they promote attracting and retaining a workforce that includes members of the communities you serve.
  • Incorporate expectations in job descriptions and employee appraisal systems that staff members are culturally responsive.
  • Include an explicit commitment to equity in the employee handbook.


Community Toolbox: Building Culturally Competent Organizations

Racial Equity Tools, Organizational Change Process

National Center for Cultural Competence, Checklist to Facilitate the Development of Culturally and Linguistically Competent Primary Health Care Policies and Structures

YWCA Racial Justice Initiative, Creating Equitable & Inclusive Organizations

American Speech-Language Hearing Association, Cultural Competence Checklist: Policies & Procedures

Washington Race Equity & Justice Initiative, Organizational Race Equity Toolkit

Data Collection and Analysis

Data collection and analysis informs strategic planning and helps an organization plan programs and services to meet community needs. The data that are collected can help assess the communities served, the resources that already exist in these communities, and the resources that are still needed. This data may include demographic information such as race, ethnicity, preferred language, sexual orientation and gender identity, information about family structure, living situation or employment, or other important details about people served by the organization.  This will create the opportunity for organizational indicators on access, use, and outcomes to be disaggregated to identify meaningful variation and disparities that need addressing.  When data are collected and analyzed, it can inform improvement efforts in program operations, staff development, and program services. For more information on the use of data, see FRIENDS’ Putting Data to Use page.

Data Collection and Analysis Action Steps Include:

  • Review and revise current data collection methods to ensure that they accurately capture all populations served.
  • Use analysis of data to develop and revise staff training and program planning to improve the quality of services provided to all populations.
  • Analyze data to inform organizational and community policies and to implement data-informed decision making.


Urban Institute, Urban Wire: Addressing Power Inequity in Research to Create Change (2020):

AISP, A Toolkit for Centering Racial Equity Within Data Integration

CDC, Practical Strategies for Culturally Competent Evaluation

Racial Equity Tools, How Can We Design Survey Interviews and Questionnaires to Give Us the Best Information Possible? – Tip Sheet

Urban Institute, Principles for Advancing Equitable Data Practice

Racial Equity Tools, What is the Difference Between Tracking Community Outcomes and Evaluating the Outcomes of Change Strategies? – Tip Sheet

Chicago Beyond Equity Series, Volume One, Why Am I Always Being Researched?

Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, More Than Numbers: A Guide toward Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Data Collection

Community Engagement

What is Equitable and Inclusive Community Engagement?

Equitable and inclusive community engagement is a key component to successful planning and decision-making. Without equitable and inclusive engagement, there is risk of making decisions that could have negative unintended consequences on residents and communities, particularly vulnerable populations and under-resourced communities.  Decisions made about policies, public benefits, and the distribution of resources will serve best if made in partnership with the people they affect. – Source: Boston Public Health Commission 2016 – 2019 Community Engagement Plan

Organizations are more effective when they engage the community in a two-way process to learn, communicate, and share knowledge. This requires establishing relationships that position the community as an active partner in organizational decision-making.

Successful engagement and collaboration begin with understanding community partners’ points of view.  Partners could include businesses, neighborhood groups, faith-based organizations, public health, governmental agencies, educational institutions, family support programs, and other community-based organizations.

A community-engaged approach fosters program development in ways that are consistent with individual and community culture. Community engagement ensures that parents and families are represented and that their voice helps shape the direction of programs and communities. 

Community Engagement Action Steps Include:

  • Engage community leaders to help structure and conduct community needs assessments that include diversity and cultural inquiries.
  • Communicate needs assessment findings to community leaders and stakeholders including families to help interpret and validate findings and receive input on implications for service delivery.
  • Use community input in organizational decision-making and ensure that community and parent advisory councils reflect the diversity of the community.


Penn State Center for Economic and Community Development, Core Principles of Community Engagement:

FRIENDS National Center for CBCAP, Parent Leadership Resources:

Principles of Community Engagement – Second Edition (Continuum of Community Engagement on page 22), NIH Publication No. 11-7782, Printed June 2011

FRIENDS National Center for CBCAP, Preventing Child Neglect – Harnessing Community Power through Conversation: A Conversation GuidePreventing Child Neglect: A Conversation Guide for Community Stakeholders 

Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network for Communities (EC-LINC). (2019). MANIFESTO for Race Equity and Parent Leadership in Early Childhood SystemsWashington, D.C.: Center for the Study of Social Policy

Language and Communication Access

Based on analysis of Census Bureau data for 2018, the Center for Immigration Studies finds that 67.3 million residents in the United States now speak a language other than English at home: a number equal to the entire population of France. This number has nearly tripled since 1980, and more than doubled since 1990.[1] In nine states, one in four residents speaks a language other than English at home. 

Families are more likely to seek support from community-based organizations when the organization can communicate with them in their preferred language.  It is important to have both translation (written materials) and interpretation (spoken and signed language) available to those seeking to interact with your organization.  Not only will services and supports be more effective when there is access for those with limited English proficiency (LEP), but Title VI of the Civil Rights Code requires it.   

Language & Communication Access Action Steps Include:

  • Identify a small inter-departmental team to champion communication access for your organization. 
  • Assess what your organization is already doing and where growth is needed in providing language and communication access.
  • Create a Communication Access Plan that identifies your organization’s practices, policies and procedures about communication access.  


California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, Steps to Start your Own Plan

Limited English Proficiency, I Speak Language Identification Cards and other resources:

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), TOOLKIT for Making Written Material Clear and Effective – PART 11 Understanding and Using the “Toolkit Guidelines for Culturally Appropriate Translation” 

U.S. Department of Justice (2011), Language Access Assessment and Planning Tool for Federally Conducted and Federally Assisted Programs

[1] Zeigler, K., & Camarota, S. (2020, 12 04). 67.3 Million in the United States Spoke a Foreign Language at Home in 2018. Retrieved from Center for Immigrant Studies:

Staff Cultural Responsiveness

Many organization’s efforts to improve their accessibility and effectiveness in serving people cross-culturally are often focused on improving the cultural responsiveness of staff.  This is an important component of a comprehensive effort to become a culturally effective organization.

Someone committed to becoming more culturally responsive will certainly seek to gain knowledge about relevant cultural norms and experiences of the participants they serve.  They may also find it useful to spend time reflecting on their own lived experiences, including early experiences with those who are different from them, and examining what might influence their worldview.  This can lead to discovering what skills and actions might facilitate more authentic cross-cultural relationships both personally and professionally.

Events in 2020 highlighted opportunities to confront systemic inequities and have inspired action, reflection, and calls for change on personal and systemic levels.  There are important overlaps between the opportunities presented by these events and cultivating one’s cultural responsiveness.  The resources shared below reflect this.

A NOTE ABOUT TERMINOLOGY: While many resources on this topic area use the term “cultural competence” many people find this term limiting.  It can denote a definitive destination – an endpoint of achievement.  This belies several realties, including that one may have knowledge of navigating cultural differences, or of cultural norms of one or more particular cultures but no one can be aware of all nuances of every culture.  The concept of competence being achieved can also obscure that the learning must be ongoing.  For these reasons, this site uses the term cultural responsiveness to refer to individual-level awareness and skill to interact across differences in a way that reflects knowledge, cultural humility, curiosity, and respect.  The term culturally responsive connotes that a particular interaction, publication, or communication may reflect cultural sensitivity, and another may do so less well.  It implies an opportunity for continual growth and improvement.  While seeing cultural responsiveness as the more accurate term, here we share and provide resources that may use the term cultural competency, cultural competence, or other terms and recognize that these terms are ever-evolving and growing.

Staff Cultural Responsiveness Action Steps Include:

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES & REFERENCES, Understanding Cultural Competency

Kagawa Singer, Mrjorie. (2019). Is there a better (or more accurate) term than “cultural competence” to describe an individual’s ability to interact with others of another culture? Retrieved from: here.

Esther Calzada and Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar (2014). Enhancing Cultural Competence in Social Service Agencies: A Promising Approach to Serving Diverse Children and Families, OPRE Report #2014-31, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from:

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi Ted Talk, The Difference Between being “Not Racist” and Antiracist

Workforce Diversity and Inclusion

“Think of diversity as being similar to selecting people for a chorus who have different musical backgrounds, vocal ranges and abilities.  The inclusion piece of diversity and inclusion means making sure that those different voices are heard and valued and that they contribute to the performance.”

Kathy Gurchiek, Associate Editor, HR News

Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

Creating an organizational culture that is diverse and inclusive involves recruiting and retaining a workforce that includes a variety of ethnicities, worldviews, ages, abilities, sexual preferences and religions.

Organizations benefit when diverse voices are heard and their input is valued.  Organizations can address underrepresentation by diversifying their workforce at all levels of the organization.  Organizations must also be intentional about creating an inclusive culture by introducing practices to ensure that employees from all backgrounds have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the workplace, feel valued, and that they can bring their whole authentic selves to work.

Workforce Diversity & Inclusion Action Steps Include:

  • Establish authentic and reciprocal relationships with cultural leaders and venues that serve diverse populations including media outlets (non-English newspapers, churches, educational institutions, social groups that serve diverse populations).
  • Outreach to search firms and recruiters focused on management and advanced skill positions to present a field of candidates that reflect the diversity of the
  • Engage in focused retention and career promotion efforts that build and maintain workforce diversity at all levels.
  • Hold organizational leadership accountable for creating and sustaining a diverse and inclusive workforce which includes allocating resources, using inclusive language, valuing the multiple pathways by which expertise is gained, and creating workplace environments that are inclusive.
  • Promote inclusiveness by celebrating employee differences and finding ways to share cultural experiences.


Race Forward, The Center for Racial Justice Innovation ©2009. Terry Keleher Applied Research Center, Racial Equity Impact Assessment:  

Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion provides a centralized source of employer-focused tools, resources, and publications on disability inclusion:


The Center for the Study of Social Policy has identified Equity and Justice as integral to what they do and has several resources on their website.  One is featured here, but there is much more available on their website:

CSSP (2019). Key Equity Terms and Concepts: A Glossary for Shared Understanding. Washington, DC: Center for the Study of Social Policy. Available at:

Gaiser, M. D., Jefferson, L. N., Santos, J., Venner, S., Boguslaw, J., & Tellez, MD, T. (2015). Brandeis University, Heller School Institute on Assets and Social Policy. Retrieved May 22, 2020, from Culturally Effective Healthcare Organizations: A Framework for Success

Lopéz, M., Hofer, K., Bumgarner, E., & Taylor, D. (2020, February 14). Developing Culturally Responsive Approaches to Serving Diverse Populations: A Resource Guide for Community Based Organizations. Retrieved from National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families:

The New Hampshire Equity Collective Culturally Effective Organizations Self-Assessment Tool:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Improving Cultural Competence. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series No. 59. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4849. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014.retrieved from

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