Affluent Santa Barbara’s Nonprofits Grapple with a Diversity Challenge

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By Caroline Culler (User:Wgreaves) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

October 22, 2016; Noozhawk

Among nonprofit leaders, the difficulty of adapting to America’s gradually changing demographics remains front and center in Santa Barbara County, California. Despite its reputation as a predominately white and affluent community, Latinos, many of them low-income, compose almost 40 percent of the region’s population. This “growing Latino population in Santa Barbara County has yet to translate into increased representation in leadership and board positions with nonprofit organizations. This lack of diversity can lead to the homogeneity that causes community problems to be missed and voices to go unheard,” says Santa Barbara Noozhawk, the community’s online newspaper.

The article quotes Ernesto Paredes, a Santa Barbara native and executive director of Easy Lift Transportation, who knows of only five Latinos leading local organizations, out of just over 4,000 nonprofits in the county. He has worked in the nonprofit community there for 25 years.

“With all the organizations out there, that’s very small, considering how many Latinos are served in this community,” he told Noozhawk. “It’s telling you that there aren’t a lot of Latinos who feel that they can make it on the salaries and live a life here in Santa Barbara as a head of an organization.”

Low salaries are an issue in the region, which has some of the highest real estate prices in the nation. The composition of local nonprofit boards is another factor.

“My best guess is that this is a result of a majority Caucasian workforce and leadership teams in the nonprofit community,” Victoria Juarez, executive director of Girls Incorporated of Carpinteria (a nearby town), told the website, adding that “organizations tend to hire and promote from within” and most are predominantly white.

As in most communities, Santa Barbara County’s nonprofits tend to attract “the usual suspects”—all dedicated and well-meaning civic leaders—to larger boards, which reinforces the pattern. The Noozhawk cites efforts to diversify, such as the practices of the Santa Barbara Foundation to hire people of color and diversify its board over the past several years.

“We made a conscious decision to reflect the county,” its CEO told the website. Local nonprofit leaders all cite the importance of empowering youth to create a pipeline and ensure the Latino community’s participation in the future as a key objective. They try to do that through mentoring and leadership development programs.—Larry Kaplan