Center for Effective Philanthropy

Nonprofit Diversity Efforts: Current Practices and the Role of Foundations

Posted on January 8, 2019

Philanthropy group encourages greater nonprofit diversity

Nonprofits are often cash strapped, which means they need to get a lot of good out of a small number of staff members. That can require forging better relationships with the people they serve can gain more insight into how best help them and developing creative ways to troubleshoot problems. Plenty of research shows the best way to do that is by cultivating a more diverse workforce, which combats (often white, affluent) blind spots, and brings new perspectives to the table.

But it turns out that while plenty of midsize and large nonprofits know that, many still aren’t doing it. Seventy percent of organizational leaders consider staff diversity an extremely important goal, but only 36% think they’ve actually achieved it, according to a new report by the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

The report, entitled Nonprofit Diversity Efforts: Current Practices and the Role of Foundations, is comprised of survey responses from 205 nonprofit leaders at groups with annual expenses between $100,000 and $100 million. (It also shares some findings about the link between diversity and workforce achievement.) The respondents come from different sector areas including education, social justice, community and economic development, human services, and health.


“Nonprofit leaders recognize that they have room for improvement in terms of how diverse they believe their staffs and boards should be in order to achieve their organization’s goals versus how diverse they currently are–and they also recognize they have steps to take to better reflect the populations they are serving, and that it’s important for them to do so,” says CEP’s vice president of research and report author Ellie Buteau in an email to Fast Company.

Because the report is built off the beliefs of leaders as opposed to raw hiring data, there may be some differences between the perceptions of those in charge. In general, though, over 20% of leaders consider their staff to be “not at all” or “not very” racially or ethnically diverse. Those numbers increase to around 40% when it comes to gender identity, 25% for sexual orientation, and 60% for people with disabilities. All those numbers jump between 20% and 40% more when you include workforces that seem “somewhat diverse.” Being “somewhat diverse”–which , of course, may be matter of interpretation–isn’t they same things as ensuring that minorities with divergent opinions are heard and empowered.

Part of the problem may be that nonprofits aren’t thinking enough about how to actually up their representation levels. “In our survey, we also asked nonprofit leaders about how diversity factored into their hiring practices,” Buteau says. “Just over half of nonprofit CEOs said their organization requests that search firms provide a diverse candidate pool. Only seven percent say they redact information such as names, addresses, or educational backgrounds from resumes before they are reviewed.”

The respondents were divided as to whether foundations should take a broader role in encouraging diversity among their grantees, but so far many obviously aren’t. Nonprofit leaders say about 40% of institutional funders haven’t discussed the importance of workforce diversity with them. Among those that collect demographic information on their grantees, only about 20% go into detail about why they are doing so.

“This tells us that there is no one solution to how foundations can support nonprofits in their diversity efforts,” says Buteau. Rather than wait, some nonprofits are tacking the issue directly. In April, the nonprofit talent development group ProInspire launched Equity in the Center, an initiative that has developed a manual (it’s called “Awake to Woke to Work”) with steps for groups at any stage of development move toward more diverse hiring and workplace equity.

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