On Tuesday the report came: an agreement had been reached between some of the largest foundations in California and the sponsor of a bill that would have mandated collection of diversity data from private foundations with more than $250 million in assets. But what are the implications of this foundation-initiated alternative to a legislative to the long-term advancement of diversity and inclusiveness in the sector? Is this the end of the conversation as people assume that diversity in philanthropy in the state has been taken care of by those ten members of the coalition?
Three interrelated issues are now weighing on my mind.
“Didn’t we take care of that?” syndrome
My hope – our hope – is that that the issue writ large of diversity does not quietly go away and become subsumed in a grantmaking initiative that helps nonprofits access foundation funding. Do not mistake my position, I believe that that what the foundation coalition is proposing to do is a worthy endeavor; however, much more needs to be done from a broader spectrum of philanthropic leaders to move diversity and inclusiveness from “worthy project” to “core value” status. Diversity and inclusiveness is a multifaceted issue that clearly touches upon foundation practice policies but so much more. What has been missing from the discussion to date about diversity in philanthropy is the need to invest in and grow philanthropy within diverse communities. As demographics shift, the future viability of the sector lies, in part, in harnessing the energies and resources of emerging donor of color for community change. What other essential issues are absent from the current discourse? Let us continue to pose more questions, engage in thoughtful inquiry and take the discourse to the next level.
Is it really a question of organizational capacity?
One I volunteered at a small nonprofit focused on people f color and was rejected by a funder on the grounds that they only fund “large, elite organization.” In any event, did not matter that we were well-run, relatively sophisticated and had sufficient capacity to meet our goals, we were able to be an effective organization. This in many ways a question of leadership and who is/is not deemed to be a leader. If that were true, for this capacity building effort to be truly successful would that require growing grassroots organizations into large, elite institutions? I hope not, For the nonprofit sector to be a dynamic and effective force for change, it needs all types of organizations, including small and nimble grassroots ones that bring an unique perspective, set of strengths and ability to work in the world
A lost opportunity to discuss the root issue?
The issue of diversity and inclusiveness also has an undeniable corollary that lies beneath the surface: race and racial justice. Let’s not only hope that the dialogue continues but take steps to near that is does. If we all go back to business as usual and do not take the time to step back, reflect and engage in deep thinking about an issue worthy of such attention, then this will be a lost rare window of opportunity to talk about the difficult issue that often undermines our efforts to create positive social change: race.
I had lunch with a friend the other day and she made a spot on remark: when people talk about race they either talk from a very intellectual, theoretical place or from an individual, deeply personal one. It is rare indeed to engage in an honest and balanced conversation that looks at the complexities, including the interrelationship between the personal and the political. What if foundations took this spotlight on diversity as a signal for raising in a thoughtful and meaningful way the issue on race? What if foundations took the lead in trying to fashion dialogue that would look at all aspects of the issue in order to enrich our understanding of race? What if they viewed Obama;s bid for the presidency as a further sign that the time is ripe for a community dialogue on race?
What if? And what do you think about any or all of these three weighty issues?