November 26, 2012; Source: Council of Michigan Foundations
In 2010, survey respondents told BoardSource that 88 percent of nonprofit CEOs were white. This year, with a new group of respondents, that figure rose to 93 percent, as Marion Conway reports in analyzing the findings of a 66-question BoardSource survey of 1,341 nonprofits. While the BoardSource sample may or may not be reflective of the sector at large, depending on which nonprofits chose to respond to the BoardSource survey this year in comparison to 2010, the statistic certainly isn’t a good sign for diversity. While people of color make up only 9.2 percent of the picture of foundation CEOs, they are even less well represented in operating nonprofits, according to data from the Council on Foundations (and if the smaller family foundation membership of the Association of Small Foundations were added, we suspect that representation would go down even further).
For boards, the statistics aren’t good either. Conway writes that she isn’t surprised by the BoardSource survey statistics that eight percent of nonprofit board members are black, three percent are Hispanic, and an “astonishing 30% of all nonprofit boards report that 100% of their members are white.” As we have previously noted, the Council on Foundations survey found foundation boards to be roughly as white as nonprofit boards: seven percent of foundation trustees are black, four percent are Latino, two percent are Asian/Pacific Islander, and one percent are American Indian.
Diversity used to be the topic of the moment for many foundations, with foundation-created groups such as D5 detailing what the philanthropic community was doing to change its racial imbalance at the top levels of foundations. This hasn’t been forgotten by the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF), which has an ongoing initiative called “Transforming Michigan Philanthropy Through Diversity & Inclusion,” or TMP. The Michigan-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which is one of the TMP funders, is widely recognized for its racial equity leadership, and the other funders—the Kresge Foundation, the C.S. Mott Foundation, and the Skillman Foundation—have long histories on this issue.
CMF recently convened a workshop in Grand Rapids, Mich. under the TMP moniker titled, “Passing the Leadership Baton: Effective Nonprofit and Philanthropic Leadership Transitions in Communities of Color.” The program was described as “casting a spotlight on the need to create career pipelines in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector for emerging professionals of color.” It’s hard to imagine that foundations and nonprofits don’t know this even if some of them might not be quite as dedicated as they ought to be in practice.
CMF is clearly correct to suggest that there should be leadership succession strategies that include people of color, that there should be diverse “benches” ready to assume leadership roles, and that foundations should work on recruiting mentors of color for young staff. That’s all fine, but something feels wrong nonetheless. The racial and ethnic demographics of the nonprofit and foundation sectors are seriously problematic. Remember that the BoardSource and Council on Foundations statistics are based on the limited numbers of groups that respond to the surveys. We strongly suspect that the true demographics are less diverse than these survey statistics.
Foundations and nonprofits in a position to change these statistics know the techniques and priorities for achieving greater diversity. Is it that the diversity talk hasn’t been matched by commitment and intentionality? Is it that too many people think that racial change will occur organically because they see this nation as having become “post-racial?” At BoardSource, Conway says she isn’t surprised. We’re not either, but we’re saddened that for all the talk, the 501(c) sector still isn’t making substantial progress toward elevating people of color into top-level foundation and nonprofit governance roles.—Rick Cohen