This op-ed from the leaders of Hispanics in Philanthropy and the Council on Foundations comes on the eve of the Council’s annual conference, where a number of sessions will address the lack of diversity and inclusion in philanthropy itself.

By Vikki N Spruill and Diana Campoamor

NonProfit Quarterly | April 7, 2016 —

NPQ has been following the work of many of the nonprofit sector’s central infrastructure organizations as they take on issues of diversity and inclusion in the ranks of nonprofits and philanthropy.


When it comes to diversifying American philanthropy, few would argue that there has been too little discussion about making the sector look more like the people it serves. The real challenge has been to set in motion the measures that assure greater diversity throughout the sector.

We can all agree that diverse talent and leadership is not just good for civil society. It is also good for America. It is, after all, the face of America’s future. The treasure of human capital increases when we tap into the broader range of perspectives, opinions, and experiences that are needed for a truly modern and effective workforce. And, in philanthropy, creating a workforce that reflects the rich diversity of backgrounds and experiences of the communities we strive to serve builds public trust in our field, helping to counter skepticism about philanthropy’s value.

Beyond a doubt, many of our sector colleagues have done significant work to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. They have certainly been the vanguard.

Yet the latest data from the Council on Foundations Grantmakers’ Salary and Benefits research confirm that the rate of underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities and, to a certain extent, women in leadership roles, in our field has not significantly improved over the past five years. At the same time, these efforts have revealed a greater need for understanding the demographics of LGBT people and those with disabilities.

While 36 percent of the overall population is made up of racial and ethnic minorities, the report data show that:

– At the governance level, just 16 percent of foundation board members are considered racial and ethnic minorities.
– At the staff level, just 24 percent of full-time grantmaker employees are members of racial and ethnic minorities.

DATA: 16% Hispanic, 12% black, 5% Asian American and Pacific Islander. 64% non-Hispanic white. (2010 Census)
Further, the persistent underrepresentation of women is reflected in the fact that they hold only 31 percent of the CEO positions in the largest foundations (those with over $1 billion in assets), and only 41 percent of all surveyed foundation board members are women. This is despite tremendous progress in securing leadership roles for women in the sector overall. (The survey found that women represent 73 percent of full-time foundation staff and 55 percent of the CEOs.) Nonetheless, the growth of female leadership in our sector may illuminate effective strategies that can help increase the representation of racial and ethnic minorities.

The Council additionally expanded its research in 2015 to gather more data on people with disabilities working in philanthropy. However, for many reasons, many foundations are hesitant to provide this information, as well as data about LGBT employees. A more comprehensive view of these groups will require a long-term strategy that both addresses privacy concerns and strengthens our ability to collect and share data over time.

The Council on Foundations, Hispanics in Philanthropy, and other affinity groups have collaborated with many foundation leaders to increase the hiring and promotion of women and racial and ethnic minorities, not only because it’s the “right” thing to do, but because it’s absolutely imperative if our organizations want to remain relevant to our communities and stakeholders.

Here are some of the strategies we recommend for addressing underrepresentation:

– Invest in your own human capital by recruiting qualified people who most accurately reflect the communities your foundation aims to serve.
– Collect and disseminate diversity data about the composition of both the staff and the board. Don’t keep the data secret. If the data don’t support the level of diversity that your organization aspires to, by publishing it you will be able to show progress, along with transparency, in the future.
– Create or contribute to diversity pipelines by being proactive in creating opportunities, through fellowships, internships and outreach efforts, so that talented individuals from diverse backgrounds can become competitive candidates and help your organization to succeed.
– When you find and hire good candidates, offer them mentoring opportunities, and foster internal leadership development.

Fifty Hispanic foundation trustees and CEOs met last month in California to discuss the persistent underrepresentation of minorities in philanthropy. Each participant committed to speak with colleagues about the challenges, given that each organization has its own internal culture and business approach.

At the April 2016 Council on Foundations Conference in Washington, D.C., a conversation with the D5 Coalition will take place on the plenary stage about concrete steps to move the field forward.

Like many of the persistent challenges facing philanthropy, the issues surrounding the underrepresentation of minorities and women will undoubtedly require collaboration and meaningful investment. We ask our members to make a commitment and work out their strategies to keep up with—if not help shape—our changing society.

Collecting and analyzing data is the best way we have to measure progress. But, in the end, this isn’t about numbers or proportions.

“The fight is never about grapes or lettuce. It is always about people,” is how farm worker labor leader César Chávez expressed it so many years ago. As each of our organizations works diligently in the struggle to improve our communities, from the local to the global, let’s not forget to invest in the heart of philanthropy—in people.

By working to improve the underrepresentation in our ranks, we can embrace the changing face of America and the people we entrust to carry out our missions, from the executive suites and boards down to our most junior staff members. Today, the principle of diversity beckons us to strengthen, not only the communities served by U.S. philanthropies, but the whole American fabric.