P O S T E D B Y C H R I S
Editor’s note: Guest blogger Chris Cardona worked for eight years in philanthropic affinity groups and is chair of the advisory board for the NYC Venture Philanthropy Fund, a new giving circle that supports NYC-based social entrepreneurs in developing innovative solutions to persistent social problems. In this post, he riffs on the effects of diversifying the ranks of professional philanthropoids …
“Equity and philanthropy” was the theme of a convening for emerging leaders of color in philanthropy hosted last week by the AIM Alliance, a partnership of three philanthropic-studies academic programs in Arizona, Indiana, and Michigan. I walked away with mixed feelings. My colleagues are doing important work, and more and more academic centers are taking the challenge of forming philanthropic skills. But this discussion remains in its infancy. We are far from understanding the causal connection between greater representation of diverse groups in philanthropy and more grantmaking dollars flowing (or not) to these nonprofits.
For example, the numbers tell us that the representation of diverse communities on the staffs of foundations has risen since the early 80s, though not on pace with their growth in the population. The level of giving to diverse communities has remained stagnant at levels far below proportionality.
Representation of diverse communities increases, giving to them does not. Doesn’t look good, eh?
But here’s the thing: The growth in representation among people of color has been concentrated at the program and support levels. At the CEO and trustee levels, it’s largely business as usual (with the important exception of white women making inroads as CEOs). So people of color continue to be underrepresented in the key decision-making roles.
It’s involvement in decision-making that we need to be pushing on. From diversity we move to equity: the point is not just to have more diverse people in philanthropy, but for more grant dollars to flow to diverse communities. And from equity we move to democracy: the point is not just for more grant dollars to flow to diverse communities, but for members of these communities, the direct beneficiaries, to be involved in the process of decision-making. That’s democratizing philanthropy, and it’s where advocates for diversity can have the most long-term impact.
But it won’t be easy. At the convening, the head of HR for the Gates Foundation described that institution’s strategy for hiring: bring in content experts and teach them how to do grantmaking. Of the 230 new hires Gates made this year, “less than a handful” had a background in philanthropy. At a gathering sponsored by three philanthropic-studies programs, which exist to form professional grantmakers, this was quite the bombshell.
The concern is that an alpha dog of philanthropy is acting as if no pipeline to philanthropic careers were necessary. But we know that developing a pipeline is key to getting more diverse people around the philanthropic table. Community foundations take a very different approach, and may offer more opportunities for diverse constituencies to break into the field on the staff side. How to get onto foundation boards is a discussion for another day.
A final note on democratizing philanthropy: Some of the most provocative ideas at the convening had to do with that other 95 percent of foundation assets. Yes, it’s critical to make sure the 5 percent paid out in grants goes equitably to diverse communities,* and that the beneficiaries in these communities participate in the decision-making process. But what about the rest of a foundation’s endowment? There’s much to be done, and the organizers of the AIM Alliance convening are to be congratulated for advancing the discussion. Let’s keep it going.
* Editor’s note: Chris is here referring to the “payout requirement” for private foundations. This legally required payout is made in the form of so-called “qualifying distributions” (including grants and, within certain limits, the administrative cost of making grants). Generally speaking, a private foundation must meet or exceed an annual payout requirement of five percent of the average market value of its total assets.
Image source: San Francisco Art Institute