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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Philanthropy – What Now?

Posted By Tausi Suedi, Monday, April 25, 2016

By: Robert Ross, Luz Vega-Marquis and Stephen Heintz

From Black Lives Matter and #OscarsSoWhite to Syrian refugees and giant border walls, our political and civic discourse of late has focused on who’s included and who’s excluded from key segments of society. Questions of diversity, inequality, and what it means to be American are now front and center in the national conversation.

In our relatively protected, bubbled existence in the field of philanthropy, which can seem immune to the realities of the world around it, the time is ripe to probe these questions. Who is included? Who is excluded? Who belongs? Who is marginalized? Does philanthropy reflect and serve the diversity of our nation?

As co-chairs of the D5 Coalition, we have been shepherding a five-year collaborative effort to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the foundation world. At this week’s annual gathering of the Council on Foundations in Washington, we are releasing the coalition’s fifth State of the Work report and sharing our sense of progress and lessons.

The bottom-line summary: We are pleased – and also frustrated. There have been pockets of progress in the last five years, but philanthropy still does not adequately reflect the diversity of our nation. First, the good news:

  • More groups are reporting demographic data. Those pushing for greater diversity in philanthropy have long been bedeviled by a lack of reliable numbers, without which it is impossible to gauge progress. Partnerships with the Foundation Center, GuideStar, and regional associations of grant makers are helping turn this around. Forty percent of Council on Foundations members are now volunteering information on staff, management, and board diversity through the Council’s annual Compensation Survey.
  •  A growing number of foundations are collecting demographic data from grantees. As these foundations share this data from grantees and applicants with colleagues in the field, a more robust understanding of philanthropic opportunities, investments, and outcomes will emerge.
  • Parts of America are achieving meaningful increases in executive and trustee diversity. In California, for example, we have seen the appointment of several new CEOs of color at private foundations over the past five years.
  • The topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion in philanthropy have gained traction in conferences and meetings. Stories and promising approaches are being shared and steadily distributed. Our report dedicates an entire section to highlighting examples of promising practices.
  • Proponents of diversity and inclusion are successfully broadening the definition of diversity, which has evolved from a focus primarily on race and gender to include sexual orientation and disability. This strengthens our ability to have constructive conversations and help everyone understand how to get more perspectives into philanthropy.

Now for the frustrating news: Data from the Council on Foundations, the only source we have on foundation demographics, shows that the proportion of CEOs of color among respondents has remained flat over the past five years at eight percent. The corresponding figure for senior executive staff is a tad more positive – 17 percent, compared to 14 percent five years ago – but there’s been a slight decline in program officers of color.

This is unacceptable. As matters of inequality in income, employment, housing, public education, justice systems, and health care stake a growing claim on the national agenda, philanthropy must set the tone and pace for inclusiveness, and for who plays a key role in deciding where money goes.

Instead, philanthropy remains on a par with country clubs when it comes to exclusivity, even eight years after the election of the first African-American president, and amid a 2016 campaign in which we have seen two Latinos, two women, and an African-American vie as serious candidates. If foundations are to function effectively in an increasingly diverse and complex world, they must develop the competencies that come from building diverse and inclusive institutions. This essential expertise can no longer be considered optional or ancillary.

What, then, must be done now? Maintaining the status quo is not a viable answer. We must renew and re-energize the conversation about inclusion in philanthropy. At the very least, we must correct a key oversight in the strategy laid out five years ago – namely, the lack of a specific plan to engage and enroll the visible leadership of foundation trustees in these conversations. As individuals who connect foundations to the larger world, their leadership can foster authorizing environments for more inclusive organizations.

We will look to correct this miscalculation in the years ahead. We will also seek to embed the commitment to diversity in a broader network of infrastructure institutions that support the philanthropic arena. The work to improve diversity and inclusion must become a widely disbursed responsibility.

You may have other strategies and suggestions to share about the road ahead. We urge you to download the D5 report and help us energize the debate at the Council on Foundations meeting and beyond. Now, more than ever, philanthropy must play a leadership role in fostering inclusion around the country and around the world. But first, let’s fix the diversity problems at America’s foundations.

Robert Ross is the President and CEO of the California Endowment. Luz Vega-Marquis is the President and CEO of the Marguerite Casey Foundation. Stephen Heintz is the President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

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