Foundation Friday: Ya think?

There’s little to add to the extensive coverage fellow/sister bloggers have given the Council on Foundations’ annual meeting, but the Nonprofiteer found herself struck by the following report in the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

As foundations face increasing pressure to prove that they are effective, they must do more to get ideas and recommendations from people with a wider variety of backgrounds, Steve Gunderson, chief executive officer of the Council on Foundations said in an interview at the meeting.

Explaining the council’s new push for more "diversity" in areas such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, Mr. Gunderson said foundations need to be better listeners and that means tapping the expertise of people who reflect the faces of the people they serve.

"We are not talking about quotas and impacts of ‘x’ amount of your board or your professional staff or your grants ought to be given in A,B, or C," he said in an interview. "What ought to be discussed is if we seek to be effective in a pluralistic and diverse society, diversity must be the foundation upon which we build our strategies."

The council’s board created a new position, director of diversity programs, to supervise projects to help diversify the foundation world, for example through fellowships, training, research, and by taking action to develop stronger ties to global philanthropy. That position is expected to be filled shortly, Mr. Gunderson said.

It’s terrific that in 2007 it’s finally occurred to foundations that they ought to actually engage in some of the diversity they demand of their grantees, though of course God forbid they should actually set numerical goals against which they could be measured.    It’s not clear how "fellowships, training, research and . . . ties to global philanthropy" will diversify foundation boards, notoriously monochrome.  People of color are already represented to a noticeable extent among foundation giving and program officers: that’s what foundation boards do instead of giving them real power.

Anyway, congratulations to the erstwhile Republican Congressman for noticing that there’s a problem.


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2 Responses to “Foundation Friday: Ya think?”

  1. Hildy Gottlieb Says:

    You are spot on in your observation of the do-as-we-say diversity talk of foundations. It has been a sticking point for me for a long time.

    In my experience, diversity is a deeper issue than we think it is. We aim at the symptom – lack of diversity on the board, for example – but that barely scratches the surface. I’ve written a lot about this issue, both at my blog and at my website, and to me the bottom line is that the approach organizations have taken to diversity so far is little more than tokenism. And that truly misses the point.

    In my experience, the only way beyond that is to change how organizations do their work at the core, engaging the community they work with to become a part of that work. When that happens, diversity is no longer an issue, because the community is part of the organization!

    So thanks for raising the topic. It seems it is certainly the topic of the week in the Nonprofit blog world!

  2. Nonprofiteer Says:

    As long as private money is concentrated among white people, it will be hard to diversify foundation Boards beyond the token level. The challenge is persuading foundation Board members (particularly family Board members) to include non-monied individuals and other strangers in their number.

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