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Forum Members Make Progress on Diversity, As Bigger Challenges Remain to Address Racial Equity in Philanthropy

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Over the past four years, members of United Philanthropy Forum have been working to build their capacity to advance racial equity in philanthropy, both internally in their organizations and externally with their philanthropy members and constituents. During this time, each of the Forum’s annual conferences have included many sessions on racial equity; racial equity has been included in other Forum programming throughout each year, embedded in our member peer communities, discussed in our member listservs, and addressed in other ways. Over the past year, nearly three-quarters of the Forum’s 87 regional and national philanthropy-serving organization (PSO) members completed a first-ever racial equity capacity assessment for PSOs, and they are now using the assessment results to inform their ongoing racial equity work; representatives from nearly half of Forum members are currently participating in racial equity peer learning cohorts; and a large number of Forum members are using racial equity mini-grants to bring new racial equity training and programming to their organizations and memberships. This work has become all the more urgent in 2020, as Forum members have addressed the growing calls for racial justice in communities and networks across the country and the deep racial and ethnic disparities being exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time that many Forum members have continued to deepen their racial equity work over the past several years, they have also been addressing the racial and ethnic diversity of their own staffs and boards. This is an acknowledgement that although having a more diverse organization does not mean that you are being effective in advancing racial equity, it is a necessary prerequisite. A new Forum report shows that PSOs are making some progress in this regard. That report reveals that the share of PSO staff who are people of color has grown from 34 percent in 2017 to 44 percent in 2020, which is higher than the 40 percent of the U.S. population and 27 percent of foundation staffs who identify as people of color, according to the latest data from the Council on Foundations (COF). Moreover, for the first time in the Forum’s four years of reporting on these data, people of color represent a majority of staff members among national PSOs responding to the survey.

Likewise, the share of CEOs of PSOs who are people of color has nearly doubled in the past four years, from 22 percent in 2017 to 39 percent in 2020. That figure is much higher than the 10 percent of foundation CEOs who are people of color, per the COF data, and the 13% of nonprofit CEOs overall who are people of color, according to BoardSource.

The Forum report found similar trends for the boards of PSOs, where the share of people of color has grown from 33 percent in 2017 to 43 percent today—nearly identical to the figure for PSO staff. This number is nearly double the 22 percent of nonprofit board members across the country who identify as people of color per BoardSource. 

This is all solid progress and it is good to see, but it of course does not mean that things are perfect or that progress does not need to continue. For one thing, progress on racial and ethnic diversity still needs to be made at the CEO level for PSOs. It should also be noted that there is little representation on PSO staffs of Middle Eastern/Arab Americans, Native Americans/Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders.

These numbers only tell one small part of the story. For example, they don’t reveal the strong commitment I see in many Forum members to be committed for the long haul to advance racial equity in their own organizations and to play leadership roles to advance racial equity in the philanthropic sector, and an understanding of the hard work that this will require. They don’t reveal the efforts of Forum members to more directly center partnerships with, and support for, BIPOC-led organizations in their work, and to help their foundation members and constituents do the same in their philanthropic work. The numbers also don't reveal the long, hard work that remains to fully address systemic racism and white supremacy in our field. It’s heartening to see progress on diversity being made among the Forum’s membership, but much bigger challenges remain ahead of us.

Read the report

David Biemesderfer
President & CEO
United Philanthropy Forum
Follow me @dbiemesderfer