Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nonprofits SERIOUSLY Need to Get Serious About Diversity

This spring, the Urban Institute and the Racial Diversity Collaborative released a study called, Measuring Racial-Ethnic Diversity in the Baltimore-Washington Region's Nonprofit Sector. The study found, like others, that “nonprofit sector leadership lags population diversity.”

Specifically, while people of color comprise 49% of the population in the region, they make up only 22% of nonprofit leaders. In addition, the study found that Executive Directors of Color mostly lead local or regional, not national organizations. “Nearly all (92 percent) national organizations are led by non-Hispanic white executive directors.”

This week, a new study from the Chronicle of Philanthropy, called Women and Minorities Lag in Appointments to Top Fundraising Jobs, shows that only 7% of Chief Development Officers at the Top 400 nonprofits are people of color.

As a black woman, I found these studies VERY DISCOURAGING. Still, I can’t say that the findings are “news.”


Attend any nonprofit conference and peruse the staff and board pages of most nonprofit websites and you will discover this truth. The nonprofit sector is really white.

For the record, there is nothing wrong with being white! There are lots of amazing white people in the world doing important, world-changing work. The problem is that there are a disproportionate number of white folks running charitable organizations. This means that similarly talented, amazing people of color are squeezed out. It also means that our movements and organizations suffer from a lack of diverse perspectives and donors.

The lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the nonprofit sector - especially at the highest levels of leadership - needs to be addressed and soon!  This disparity exists in stark contrast to a country that is changing rapidly. Specifically, by 2042, the Census Bureau estimates that the majority of Americans will be people of color.

While new research to address gender and age stratification in charities is being released, the discussion of racial and ethnic stratification in the nonprofit sector continues to stall. This needs to CHANGE.

Here are my top 3 reasons that nonprofits SERIOUSLY need to GET SERIOUS about diversity, now!
  • No diversity = No new donors. Donors are people too and they need to see themselves represented on the boards and staff of organizations they support. They also need to feel like the organization they invest in are engaged with and support their communities. Seems like a no-brainer to me. Want more new donors of color? Hire diverse staff.
  • No diversity = No new perspectives. While it's true that simply being African America, Asian American or a Latina doesn't make you an authority on all things related to race and class, there is a good chance that by having a diverse staff and diverse constituents, you will bring new ideas and programmatic solutions to the table.
  • No diversity = No differentiation. Call me manipulative, but look around. Are other nonprofits in your space, i.e. your competitors and collaborators, reaching out to people of color? If the answer is "NO," then building bridges to people of color may give you a competitive advantage. Just as for-profits scrambled to connect with the "women's market" 10 years ago, smart nonprofit will start connecting with new donors of color, now!
For more resources on diversity (or lack thereof) in nonprofits, check out this post by me on Web of Change.



Jay Frost said...

"No diversity = No donors" may be an overstatement...but not by much. As you point out, the demographic changes in our country are profound and at historic dimensions. If NPOs want to appeal to this fast emerging market, it is essential that they are more reflective of their community. I would suggest that one way to accomplish that change is not only to hire with diversity in mind but also to conduct donor acquisition with the future in focus as well. Organizations tend to do things as they've always done them, serving the pool of mature donors that make their current activities possible. It is understandable, therefore, that fundraisers tend to resemble the communities from which donors have come. But again, America has changed and continues to change. And the risk of not quickly adjusting to the rapidly altering donor landscape is too great. Boards must provide forward-looking leadership now and clearly direct both fundraising and human resource operations to attract donors and staff from communities which will dominate the philanthropic marketplace in just a few short years. It's not only the right thing to do. It's also the smart thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jocelyn!

I just stumbled upon your blog and boy am I happy that I did! This article truly spoke to me as an asian american woman who just founded a non profit organization. I strive to pick members of different age, race, and social demographic because if we want to bridge communities we have to start from within. So glad I found this site, will be checking in again and with Care2!

Take Care!


Jocelyn said...

Hi Melissa,

So glad you found the blog and liked the post. Helping to build an economic as well as a morale case for more racial and ethnic diversity in the nonprofit sector is very important to me. I'm so happy that you are passionate about this issue as well.



Jocelyn said...


As always, thanks for your good thinking re: making nonprofits more diverse!


Erin McClarty said...

Fantastic post. I'm a recent graduate from law school and there is a similar inequality between law partners and minorities.

My primary issue with this situation is the effect it has on the very communities these organizations are trying to help. How effective can an outreach truly be if an organization that is 90% non-minority reaches out to a community that is almost entirely Black or Hispanic? Often times, I've run into communities that have various resources available to them that they do not capitalize on because: 1) They can't relate or feel comfortable around the teams sent out to help; 2)Or the community doesn't trust the organization, primarily because they feel that people who don't look like themselves can't understand what they are going through and thus cannot truly be in it to help them.

Silly though it may sound, it is basic human nature. People want to commiserate and associate with those who look like they do. And non-profits that don't get this are doing themselves, and the community, a great disservice.

Jocelyn said...


Thanks so much for your comment. How do you think we can begin to make the economic case that diversity is good for business?


Dan Morris said...

I found this post absolutely insulting. Thanks for the comment that, "there's nothing wrong with being white". That's very big of you!

BTW, have you noticed that the people who donate 99.9% of the money that non-profits live on are white. This money pays YOUR salary.
This money is derived from philanthropy and by the extraction of taxes by the various government authorities of the top 10% income earners, who pay 90% of all taxes. The bottom 50% (99 % of all people of color fall into this category) pay ZERO in taxes. Get off your duff and get to work. Work to get ahead based on the "content of your character" and the quality of your output and not the color of your SKIN!

Jocelyn said...


Your comment are wrong.

1) While some American's do not pay Federal Income Tax, ALL Americans pay taxes. See this report by Citizens for Tax Justice.

"It’s true that many taxpayers don’t pay federal income taxes, but they still pay federal payroll taxes (and some federal excise taxes) and also pay state and local taxes. Most of these other taxes are regressive, meaning they take a larger share of a poor or middle-class family’s income than they take from a rich family. This largely offsets the progressivity of the federal
income tax.

CTJ estimates that the share of total taxes (federal state and local taxes) paid by taxpayers in each income group is quite similar to the share of total income received by each income group in 2009.

2) What research study are you referring to which shows that 99% of donors are white?

This new study from Russ Reid, called Heart of the Donor actually shows that low-income folks, who are disproportionately people of color, are actually MORE GENEROUS than their wealthy and white counterparts.

"Lower-income people tend to be more generous than higher income individuals. • Wealthier people do tend to give more, but they tend to give a lower proportion of their
income than do lower income individuals."


Anonymous said...

It's difficult to talk about race without someone getting emotional. that's especially true in the Age of Obama when we are supposed to be past the whole race thing.

Try telling that to my Latino or to my Muslim neighbors.

So how do we talk about race? How do we talk about getting serious about diversity in leadership positions at nonprofits.

I think that you are right to look to make the economic case for diversity. trying to lay a guilt trip on white folks has a few predictable responses. It shuts down liberals and it pisses off conversatives. Either way it does not open a dialogue.

Demographics are destiny. So if you are intending to serve an increasing diverse group, you need a diverse staff that is representative of your target population.

I don't think that relying solely on the moral agrument for diversifying nonprofit staff is an effective one. We have little to show for progress in this regard.

Baby boomers are the most morally aware generation. This generation saw the civil rights struggle, the women's liberation movement, the gay rights revolution etc. If do the right thing was all it took, they would have already done it.

Corporate America gets diversity because its about markets, demographics and new opportunities.

My sense is that the nonprofit sector is lagging behind other sectors in terms of diversity because there were greater opportunities to make gains in terms of diversity in the private and in the public sectors.

I also think that there is something to be said about the demographics of the donor community. As the complexion of the donor community browns, the complexion of nonprofit leadership will change.

Is that a cynical comment?

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