7 Strategies to Boost Diversity in the Philanthropic Sector

7 Strategies to Boost Diversity in the Philanthropic Sector


councilonfoundationslogoOver the past few years, a great deal of discussion has occurred about the increasing need for diversity in the American philanthropic sector. A clear disconnect exists between the people who work at nonprofits, charities, and similar organizations and the people that they serve. While there is a general consensus that organizations should reflect the individuals whom they help, there is no widespread agreement about how to make the philanthropic sector more diverse.

Last year, the Council on Foundations Grantmakers’ Salary and Benefits research found that the underrepresentation of women, racial minorities, and ethnic minorities in philanthropic organizations has not improved significantly in the last five years. The situation does not become any better when considering the perspective of members of the LGBT community or people living with disabilities. Overall, the study found that only 16 percent of foundation board members are racial and ethnic minorities, and only 24 percent are full-time staff. In comparison, racial and ethnic minorities comprise 36 percent of the general public.

Several institutions that conduct research on the field of philanthropy, such as Hispanics in Philanthropy and the Council on Foundations, have tried to address the issue of underrepresentation by offering concrete steps that organizations seeking to make themselves more diverse can follow. The recommendations include:

  1. Publish data about the diversity of staff and board members. When charitable organizations try to keep data about the diversity of their staff a secret, people may not even realize that there is a problem. By collecting and publishing data, organizations can better see the disparities in diversity between themselves and the populations they serve and, more importantly, witness the progress that they make over time toward addressing the discrepancies. Transparency is one of the most important factors in combatting the lack of diversity in the philanthropic sector.
  1. Make diversity a key aspect of succession planning. Leaders should be encouraged to consider diversity when adopting mentees and training them for top leadership positions. Organizations should be intentional in their planning and make it easier for underrepresented employees who demonstrate great potential to climb the ranks. When leadership transitions occur, it can be beneficial to have some sort of oversight to level the playing field and ensure that the decisions made benefit the organization and its future goals.
  1. Include diversity considerations in recruitment. Philanthropic organizations should strive to represent the communities that they serve as much as possible. When recruiting, it makes sense to look for talent directly from those communities. These individuals will have a unique perspective and different ideas about how to maximize their impact. Diverse hires ultimately strengthen an organization by bringing in viewpoints that might not otherwise be heard, but that are extremely important for providing the best programming possible.
  1. Be proactive in creating opportunities for diverse employees. Nonprofit organizations, just like corporations, should actively seek out ways to invest in employees and improve their skill sets. Mentoring programs and similar initiatives can be a great way to develop talent and create new opportunities for talented, diverse employees. Organizations can also create opportunities for diverse individuals outside of a nonprofit. Fellowships, internships, and other similar programs are great for bringing new people into an organization and potentially hiring them on as full-time staff members.
  1. Cast a wide net when looking for potential new hires. Too often, philanthropic organizations search too narrowly for new employees, especially if a specific pipeline has proven particularly fruitful. Instead of focusing on graduates from a particular institution or candidates from a particular network, human resources professionals should expand their reach. Tapping into new networks can lead to more diverse hires. Also, hires from prestigious universities are good, but that does not mean people from public universities or even community college programs do not have real talent. Even people without degrees, but who have relevant professional experience, can become invaluable members of a team.
  1. Start the diversity push at the top and let it trickle down. One approach to increasing diversity is to bring in more diverse individuals on the front lines and let them work their way to the top. However, this is not the only approach. Some individuals think it is better to start with diversity at the very top. When a company’s board and executive suite become more representative of the people that it serves, the rest of the organization will naturally become more diverse. When increasing diversity within human resources or even at the level of department heads, there is no guarantee that this shift will cause a larger organizational shift. Board members and executives have the kind of sway needed to effect real change.
  1. Codify the organization’s commitment to diversity. One of the best ways to diversify organizational leadership is to write a specific policy about what it means and how it will happen. Policies related to hiring and promotions should clearly state the intentions and goals of these processes. Creating written policies opens the floor for debate and enhancement. This strategy has been used at some of the largest philanthropic organizations, such as the United Way of America.

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