What color is your money?

No doubt you will be shocked–shocked!–to learn from a Greenlining Institute study that less than 4% of grant money from national foundations goes to minority-led charities.  The Gates Foundation was able to move the needle a bit with a $535 million gift to the United Negro College Fund (with this gift included, the percentage of grant dollars to minority-led charities shoots up to 14.7%), but the overall point remains: organized philanthropy is color-blind–that is, blind to the existence of anyone of color.

Could this possibly have anything to do with the disgracefully low levels of minority representation on foundation boards?  In 2002 (and trust me, little has changed), the Foundation Center reported:

only two in five foundations (314 of 704) have one or more persons of color on their boards. In 2002, more than half (55.7 percent) of the 930 minority board members identified in the management survey served on the boards of community foundations, and less than 5 percent served on family foundation boards.

And if you ask them about it, the foundations will say they just can’t find any qualified minority members–an answer they wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) tolerate from the charities they fund.

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5 Responses to “What color is your money?”

  1. Debby Halpern Says:

    This was very helpful in work I am doing for my client – The Diversity Pipeline Alliance. Check out: http://www.diversitypipeline.org/public/publicpage.asp?WCE=C=47|K=221913

    Kellogg Foundation gave DPA $500,000 to develop programming to promote board membership and philanthropic efforts (time and money) from business world’s minority population. It is a 2 year program and we are literally just kicking it off. Part of the problem is that the African-American and Latino communities are not accustomed to the concept philanthropy and board service. You might find the attached report interesting.

    Thanks for writing this one.

  2. Kelly Kleiman Says:

    I’d be surprised if the “African-American and Latino communities are not accustomed to the concept of philanthropy and board service,” considering all the mutual aid groups thriving in those communities. What continues to be an obstacle, I think, is the mutual suspicion between “mainstream” (that would be “white”) philanthropies and charities and prominent members of minority communities–the challenge is to find ways for everyone to win as a result of cooperating.

  3. Gene Finley Says:

    My god. Where do I start on this one. For a change, I don’t want to argue at all but rather to suggest this topic is perhaps one of the broadest issues facing NFP organizations. Apply for a grant from Kresge and try to satisfy their diversity requirements.

    I like to view diversity as a continuum. To be simple, lets take the obvious, black to white continuum. Draw a line from zero percent to 100% black to white. Mark the place your donor base falls on the continuum then mark the place your client base falls on the continuum.

    All other stakeholders are synthetic and should therefore as a group fall within the boundries described in the continuum. The board, the management and the staff of an organization are synthetic and should be built inside the continuum.

    Per my limited observation, charities are lead by the people with the ability to give. Philanthropy is not just money, it’s also insight and governance. Nonetheless, we find charities being governed by those with the gold, usually truly wonderful people, though with limited exposure to the world in need of charitable services. That said, we find the leadership polarized at the donor end of the continuum guessing what’s best for people they really don’t understand.

    My opinion is that the money is often getting to the right place, it’s just not being lead beyond that place to the client in an appropriately diverse environment. The result is many charities do some good when with more diverse leadership they could do a whole lot of good.

  4. Ellen Wadey Says:

    There’s so much to say, I’m not sure where to start. I strongly disagree that “Latino and African-American communities are not accustomed to the concept of philanthropy and board service.” (In fact, I cringed at that statement). There is a strong tradition of religious affiliation in both communities, and we all know that the strongest vein of individual giving has always been and continues to be church giving — even with the recent downturns in that sector. That’s where most people — white, black and brown — first learn about philanthropy. There is also strong leadership and giving from the Latino and African-American communities to social service agencies.

    The issue of low representation on boards from minority communities is most strongly felt in the arts — mainly because these communities have been underrepresented in a meaningful and sustained way on the stage, the page and in the seats. (Putting up one or two performances a year that will appeal to underrepresented communities is not audience development). I’m worried that the conversation is now about “getting people of color on boards” — which sounds an awful lot like meeting quotas to me — versus the larger conversation about how well — or how poorly — organizations are truly reaching out to underrepresented communities. We’re treating the symptom instead of the issue yet again.

    If you take away mandated field trips from inner-city schools to cultural institutions, the success of outreach into marginalized communities isn’t very impressive. (And I don’t mean to suggest that all people of color live in the inner-city — but that’s how most organizations think about it). And, if you track how many of those students ultimately become audience members, patrons and board members as adults, the numbers are even worse. (That’s not to say that I don’t advocate for students to be exposed to the arts. It’s important. But it’s a step, not the sole effort).

    I’ve done work with arts organizations seeking diversity and the biggest obstacle is not “finding people” — there are plenty of people of color with a clear understanding of philanthropy and board membership — but truly embracing diversity mandates organizational change — not just in numbers of minorities on staff or on the board but in mindset. Reaching out to new populations means change — and that’s a scary thing for most organizations to embrace as opportunity rather than threat.

    Where do most organizations find their board members? The strongest board members are usually surfaced at performances — or recommended by other board members who are tied to the organization because of its mission and programs. Could a person feel any other than as a token — even if that person is willing to take on that label in order to make change — when they’re being recruited for their skin tone versus their affiliation to the organization?

    Studies have shown that board members of color have a higher attrition rate for arts organizations. The reason is that the board members didn’t feel they could break through the established board system. They were there, and the board was glad they were there — to prove diversity — but they were kept at arm’s length. They couldn’t get access to make a connection and invest themselves in the organizations. Who wants to serve on a board where you don’t feel like you’re making a difference? I sure wish these studies looking at recruiting more board members from communities of color — which I would love to see — would turn their lens to look as closely at the organizations as they do at the communities from which they are trying to recruit. Rather than putting the onus for the solution on the communities of color, it seems it should be on the organizations to figure out why they aren’t attractive to board members of color.

  5. Nonprofiteer Says:

    Excellent points, especially about the isolation and estrangement of nonwhite Board members. I just attended a nonprofit Board meeting at which people speculated unselfconsciously about whether the only woman of color on the Board would be “more comfortable” hosting an evening “at her home, with her friends” than “attending a meeting with us.” As long as this us-and-them expression of unconscious (I THINK it’s unconscious) racism persists, recruitment of minority Board members will be a futile revolving door.

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