Many studies have come out in recent years to confirm an ongoing problem in the nonprofit sector with board and staff diversity. A 2017 BoardSource report found that just 10 percent of nonprofit chief executives and 16 percent of nonprofit board members were people of color, basically unchanged from two years earlier. A 2018 report by the Center for Effective Philanthropy, a Forum member, found that 70 percent of nonprofit CEOs believe in the importance of staff diversity to achieve their organization’s goals, but only 36 percent think they’ve actually achieved it; for board diversity, those figures were 64 percent vs. 22 percent.
I reflected on these reports and others while I was reviewing a new United Philanthropy Forum report on the employment practices of Forum members—regional and national philanthropy-serving organizations (PSOs) that work to advance, inform and support philanthropy. For many years now, Forum members have been paying more attention to the importance of staff diversity for their organizations and their foundation members, but past Forum research showed that PSO diversity continued to lag woefully behind the mark. That seems to be starting to change.
The Forum’s newly released 2019 Compensation & Benefits for Philanthropy-Serving Organizations report, based on a survey of the Forum’s membership, shows that 45 percent of PSO staff identify as people of color—that’s up from 40 percent in 2018 and 34 percent in 2017. PSO staff are more diverse than the U.S. population, where 40 percent are people of color (1), and much more diverse than U.S. foundation staff, where 26 percent identify as people of color (2). This is a notable amount of progress in a relatively short period of time. The survey did not look into the reasons for this shift, but I have one possible explanation. Over the past few years the Forum and many of our PSO members have been devoting more time and resources, as individual organizations and collectively as a network, to advancing racial equity in philanthropy. It’s difficult to be an authentic leader in addressing issues of racial equity if your own organization is not sufficiently diverse. Diversity alone is not enough, but it’s an important aspect of engaging in this work. Perhaps actions are catching up with intentions.
The Forum report also shows a growth in diversity among PSO boards. Forty-one percent of PSO board members identify as people of color—up from a 33 percent share reported for both the 2018 and 2017 Forum surveys. For chief executives of PSOs, 31 percent are people of color, which is up slightly from 27 percent in 2018. This figure is well above the 10 percent shares reported for the CEOs of both U.S. foundations and U.S. nonprofits. Nonetheless, there is still a need for greater diversity at the CEO level in the Forum membership.
What can be done about the diversity gap that persists at the top leadership levels of Forum members, or any nonprofit organization for that matter? The 2017 report Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap, by the Building Movement Project, notes that in order to increase the number of people of color leaders, the nonprofit sector needs to address the practices and biases of those who are governing nonprofit organizations. Among the report’s recommendations that are particularly relevant to PSOs:
- Change the Narrative: Stop presuming that there are not enough qualified people of color candidates, instead place responsibility on the assumptions and structures that guide decision-makers.
- Start with Bold Leadership: Nonprofit leaders should make race and race equity a top priority, starting with their own organizations, in order to create the culture change needed to advance people of color leadership in the sector.
- Implement Race Conscious Organizational Practices: All nonprofits should implement hiring and promotion policies/practices that address issues of implicit bias, especially targeting the people who hire executive leadership.
- Measure Results: Funders and associations can begin collecting information on whether and how organizations are moving the dial in hiring high-level people of color, including the role of recruiters and consultants in addressing issues of race and race equity.
On that last point, the Forum will continue to report and track staff diversity of our membership at all levels of leadership, as well as board leadership, so that we can hold our membership accountable as we continue to move forward with our collective work to advance racial equity, diversity and inclusion in philanthropy. It is not sufficient for Forum members to maintain and continue improving the overall staff diversity numbers for our network. We must work harder to increase the diversity of our senior leadership, as well as ensure that we are providing the appropriate support, encouragement and pathways for advancement for the increasingly diverse PSO staff who are not currently in senior leadership positions in our organizations.
United Philanthropy Forum applauds our members who have worked to achieve greater diversity with their staffs and boards, as evidenced by our latest report. But let’s remember that there’s a long way to go to from having diverse organizations to having fully inclusive and equitable organizations.
President & CEO
United Philanthropy Forum
Follow me @dbiemesderfer
(1) See U.S. Census Bureau statistics for 2018
(2) See Council on Foundations’ 2018 Grantmaker Salary and Benefits Report.