Philanthropy and Inclusivity: A Longstanding Problem That Must Be Treated as Urgent



As readers know, 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. This op-ed from the leaders of Hispanics in Philanthropy and the Council on Foundations comes to us 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. NPQ will be covering these sessions, so keep an eye out for follow-up!


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.

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.

DATA: 16% Hispanic, 12% black, 5% Asian American and Pacific Islander. 64% non-Hispanic white. (2010 Census)

  • Mathieu Despard

    These recommendations don’t go far enough. Foundations – and any organization for that matter – should also look at the degree to which women, people of color, and other marginalized groups are in executive positions, whether they are promoted at the same rates as white men, and whether grants reach minority-led nonprofits. Foundations might also consider anti-oppression as the guiding framework – not diversity – to account for and respond to multiple forms of marginalization. Certainly some foundation out there has done a great job of this. Hold them up as an example to emulate.

  • armando1980

    I agree these recommendations don’t go far enough. I have been one of the few latino Development Officers that have crossed both Major Institution fundraising and Grassroots fundraising.I have been a Development Officer for 31 years. One interesting suggestion is to look into community/grassroots nonprofit staff. I can only speak for the fundraising arena. I have recruited diverse Development Officers who raise money for small and medium nonprofits. Many large institutions, especially universities don’t consider this type of experience valid. Sorry to be blunt. But that’s not always the case. Because someone only raised $1 million a year a Abused Children’s Shelter doesn’t mean she isn’t a good development officer who couldn’t raise $20 million at a major institution. I would wager that that million is a lot harder to raise at the community level.
    I have also done searches, it’s harder but you should have representation in the candidates. If you have 5 finalists make sure it looks like your community. It’s harder to find, you have to seek people out but it can be done

  • Mac

    I applaud the authors for the article and encourage them to be vigilant. This is a pervasive issues that cuts across all sectors of society, especially at senior levels. I must also ask NPQ about the diversity of their leadership and staff and encourage NPG to add more race and ethnic diversity to its list of newswire writers and contributors. We all need to be asking this question— the finger needs to point both ways and every-which way.

  • ruth

    our staff and board are diverse but our contributors are less so. We have taken a number of steps to improve so check that sidebar again in six months

  • Thank you so much for this important work and COF’s efforts on diversity. My husband and I have a donor advised fund. We started it when we got married and have added to it since. Some years ago, thanks to the inspiration of other philanthropists, we began to review grants through a new lens. We took the step to add questions to our grant application that not only asked who organizations serve and what programs they wanted funding for, but also how inclusive they are of people with disabilities. We added these questions to all our applications – and find them especially meaningful with organizations whose missions and actions are outside of the disability space. We found, for example, that the Sierra Club and RAINN, both non-disability focused organizations, have deeply thoughtful inclusion policies and practices. We also found that Autism Speaks, which is all about disability issues, did not have people with Autism on its board or senior staff. And we also saw that most faith-based groups, who as religious organizations, are legally exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act, did not even know what they did not know about these issues.

    Our grantees include religious overnight camps, Community Center volunteer program for teens, synagogues, faith-based Day Schools and other organizations. We want all of them to strive to be inclusive and to have specific plans and actions to achieve their goals. Overall, fully 1 in 5 people in America have a disability. Thus, we want to ensure that organizations that receive our philanthropic dollars demonstrate that they are committed not only to their mission but also to representing and including our whole community.

    We did not invent this concept, we follow in the footsteps of important leaders like the Butler and Ruderman Family Foundations which each also focuses on disability. We also saw that the Schusterman and Morningstar Foundations and Stuart Kurlander use inclusion strategy to promote inclusion of LGBTQ people. There are still others who are focused on interfaith families, racial diversity, a gender lens and more. As my family and I incorporated this philosophy and system into our grant-giving, we are hoping to inspire other donors to do the same. In the years to come I don’t want people to look at my family and friends with disabilities as people to pity or serve, I want them to view us as valued, participatory members of the community, and as donors as well.

    Below are a sampling of the questions that we use with our grantees, along with resources and examples from organizations that have it right.

    This is only one of the many lessons I have learned over the years in philanthropy. I share it in hopes that it helps you think through your own giving. No matter how small or large the size of your check is, the organizations that get your money should reflect your values throughout.

    1. What is the purpose of your organization and work?

    As I stated, using these questions is not an effort to find and fund organizations that strictly focus on inclusion of people with disabilities. This is a system to identify organizations that include people with disabilities no matter their mission. Here is an excellent example of a synagogue mission statement from Congregation Beth Shalom in Bloomington, Indiana. It includes the following section:

    “Inclusion: We respect the great diversity of human beings, all of whom are created b’tzelem Elohim, (“in God’s image”) and welcome individual irrespective of race, sexual orientation, economic status, physical or cognitive ability, or mental health status.”

    2. Does your organization have policies that support meaningful inclusion of people with disabilities at all levels? If yes, please describe; if not, please indicate efforts underway to develop them.

    We recognize that not every organization is successfully including people with disabilities. If they were, I would work a lot less hours at RespectAbilityUSA (a non profit I co-founded and now run to enable people with disabilities to have a better future) to achieve this goal. Asking these questions, however, can begin this important conversation within organizations that simply had not thought in this way before. Our money may help them to begin this work. We won’t penalize for lack of perfection, rather for lack of effort and true commitment.

    3. Does your organization have a disability advisory committee/inclusion committee? If so, please describe; if not, please indicate efforts underway to develop one.

    This is actually one of the most important steps that an organization can take when working to become more inclusive. Committees should include people who care about this issue, likely family members who are personally connected to disability, and also people with disabilities themselves! The slogan is, “nothing about us without us.” Inclusion Committee members should also serve on other committees in the organization in order to ensure that there is consistency and attention to inclusion in all areas.

    4. Will the program or project include people with disabilities? If not, why not? If so, how do you plan to identify, reach, and welcome them?

    In the same way that there are checklists for events to remember the microphone, plan seating arrangements and write thank you notes, there is also a checklist for including people with disabilities in events. It starts with making sure that people with disabilities know that they are welcome and that organizations are willing to make accommodations to include them. Adding an accommodation line to all advertising flyers, emails, and registration lists is a critical first step. Here is an example:

    This event is open to people of all abilities. If there are any accommodations needed in order to be fully included, please provide that information on the registration form.

    5. Describe the accessibility of your offices to people with physical disabilities.

    While many new buildings must be built to code and made ADA accessible, unfortunately, religious institutions are still exempt from these standards. Which means that many people with disabilities can’t even make it across the threshold to join our community.

    6. Describe the accessibility of your website to people with hearing and vision impairments.

    Blind people are able to surf the web, listen to conference calls and even “hear” word documents. That is if the websites, videos, and documents are properly programmed to be accessible to screen readers. Click here to learn more about how to ensure that your site is up to date with this technology.

    7. Do you employ individuals who have disabilities? If so, what are their jobs? Do they receive the same compensation and benefits as all other employees in like positions? If not, please describe all remedial efforts underway.

    Unemployment and underemployment are a chronic problem connected with disability. Fully 22 million Americans with disabilities are working-aged (18-64 years old), but less than 35 percent of them are employed (and that number has not changed in 25 years). Moreover, 300,000 young people with disabilities age into what should be the workforce every year, but most cannot get a job. If we can do a better job of enabling them to achieve the American dream, we won’t just save their dignity and bring them income, we can save tax dollars and enable employers to have access to loyal talent that will make them stronger.

    The Manhattan JCC among others has a strong program to train people with disabilities, match them with the right employer, and even pay their salary for the first year of employment.

    8. Please describe how you educate your Board of Directors or Trustees about serving and partnering with people with disabilities.

    In my experience, you can categorize organizations into those with the right attitude and the wrong resources (lacking money, inaccessible building), those with the wrong attitude and the right resources, those with neither, and those with both. We have worked with all of the above, but one constant remains true, for inclusion to be successful, the leadership at the top must buy into and share the vision for its importance. Many steps to be more inclusive are relatively easy and free, but there are others that take time, staff resources, and a financial commitment. It is critical that the leadership is educated about the importance of inclusion and learns how it is not only the right thing to do, but also the right thing for the organization.

    The Council on Foundations is leading the way on inclusion on many fronts. Stephanie Powers there has done groundbreaking work on inclusion of people with disabilities and D5 is a terrific leader. I can’t wait to see their session at the conference and to join with others who care about Hispanics, African Americans, Asians, LBGTQ and all other groups as well. We are all better and stronger when the organizations we fund reflect the populations they serve.

  • simonejoyaux

    Our sector has “talked about this” for years – in NGOs and in foundations. Instead of leading, the NGO sector talks but doesn’t act enough. Instead of leading, our society and institutions and sectors too often wonder “why Black Lives Matter.” After all, wasn’t that taken care of in the Civil Rights movement? Now we have marriage equality, but equity isn’t the lived experience. The women’s movement? Oh that’s pretty fine, too. Sure, there’s been change. Yes, we have some laws. But we don’t have social justice. Despite laws. Despite huge attempts and meager attempts. Justice isn’t the lived experience of women, people of color, LGBTQ, and on and on.

    I always hoped – and I still do – that the NGO sector would lead justice. I always hoped that philanthropy could be a democratizing act. I continue to hope. I continue to act. I avoid silence because it is consent.