Diversity Debate: An Overview
In early 2008, California State Assemblymember Joseph Coto introduced bill AB 624 into the state legislature, which would have required California-based foundations with assets of $250 million or more to report on the racial and gender composition of all staff, as well as the number of grants awarded to minority nonprofit organizations. In an editorial for the San Jose Mercury News, the Greenlining Institute, a Berkeley, California based public policy research and advocacy group, argued for passage of the bill. In its view, California taxpayers had a right to know “how their tax dollars are being spent” and that foundations were underperforming in serving “the entire public good.” In June, Coto dropped the legislation as ten California foundations pledged new funding for underserved communities. The coalition of foundations spent the rest of 2008 evaluating their own grantmaking and consulting with nonprofit leadership. The result was a $30 million, multi-year, flexible funding commitment from all ten foundations.
Considering the mix of public and private institutions, higher asset foundations and highly diverse demographics, it is not surprising that this debate reached critical mass in California, and that institutions in the state are actively pursuing efforts to understand and expand their grantmaking in this context. However, the situation in California is only one facet of a decade-long discussion in the field of philanthropy on whether diversity increases effectiveness. To paraphrase the Rockefeller Foundation Advisors’ Diversity & Inclusion Report, the answer is a resounding “maybe.”
The demographic shifts in overall growth, coupled with an increase in racial and ethnic populations within the United States has compelled philanthropy to question its level of engagement with under-served communities and consider whether more engagement could improve the field's effectiveness. Several studies, commissioned by foundations and other institutions, have researched the issues, pursuing answers to such questions as “How effective are foundations at reaching out to its entire community?” and ”Does having a diverse workforce make foundations more successful at expanding whom they fund?”
Benjamin Todd Jealous of the Rosenberg Foundation argues that funding a diverse range of communities takes serious investment of time and money. The goal, Jealous says, is to find nonprofits that would not otherwise be in conversation with your foundation. “Because we spend more time meeting with people who have received little to no support from our peers, the people we support, like our board, look like California.” Funding in such a manner is necessarily expensive, but in both the short and long term, it allows foundations to help more nonprofits do more good.
How to structure that time and financial investment, as well as how to measure impact, is now a central concern of coalitions like the Race and Equity in Philanthropy Group (REPG). Comprised of four geographically diverse foundations, REPG's general recommendations include developing a sector-wide definition of “organizations of color,” as well as researching the link between effective nonprofits and the communities they serve. In the long-term, the coalition believes that the grantmaking process to organizations of color should emphasize open communication, support for capacity building, and an internal discussion on race and inclusion.
The conversation extends beyond whether foundations should give to “organizations of color” to whether the foundations themselves need to be diverse to be effective. Since 1993 the Joint Affinity Groups (JAG) has studied the diversity of the foundation workforce. JAG found an overall increase in the numbers of women and men of color, as well as gay and lesbian staff, during the last decade, but also found that considerable barriers still exist, including a high turnover rate and lack of promotions into senior positions. JAG sees the benefits of greater workforce diversity as a closer connection to communities, improved responsiveness to demographic changes, and better outreach to diverse donors.
“Grant Making with a Racial Equity Lens,” a report by the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity and GrantCraft, also argues that a foundation must change its own habits and culture internally to be effective, including intentional strategies to retain staff and protocols for discussing diversity with grantees. A “racial equity lens” involves analyzing data about race and ethnicity, understanding problems at their structural level, and talking about race frankly when discussing grants, staffing, and foundation procedures.
So what does this all mean for grants managers? On a concrete level, this may point to the need to develop ways to identify and track contributions to organizations of color and the people they serve. It could also mean aggressive hiring practices to identify and engage a more diverse grants management workforce. Whatever the ultimate outcome, diversity in philanthropy is certainly a conversation that grants managers should be knowledgeable about, should prompt or join in discussions about within their organizations and GMN, and should continue to share ideas and approaches on.
Further resources, research and Web sites:
- The Foundation Center - “Embracing Diversity: Foundation Giving Benefiting California's Communities of Color”
- Joint Affinity Groups - “The Meaning and Impact of Board and Staff Diversity in the Philanthropic Field: Findings from a National Study”
- Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors - “Diversity and Inclusion: Lessons from the Field”
- Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors - “Philanthropy in a Changing Society: Achieving Effectiveness Through Diversity”
- GrantCraft - “Grantmaking with a Racial Equity Lens: Using a Racial Equity Analysis”
- National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy - “Creating a Philanthropic Sector That Is More Responsive to the Needs to Diverse Communities”
Initiatives and Resources
- Diversity in Philanthropy
- Just Philanthropy: Pathways to Progress – A series of essay and resources.
- Giving Forum (Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers): Racial, Ethnic, and Tribal Funds Knowledge Center
- The Denver Foundation’s Inclusiveness Project
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