Foundation Heads Call on Peers to Publicize Diversity Data

By Alex Daniels

Responding to an effort to encourage diversity among environmental nonprofits, the leaders of six major foundations called on their peers to share the racial and gender make-up of their boards and staff.

The heads of the Bullitt, Ford, William and Flora Hewlett, Kresge and Wilburforce foundations and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund said they had provided their diversity data to GuideStar, an organization that compiles data on nonprofits.

GuideStar, which has long collected financial audits and tax filings from nonprofits, began posting demographic data last year. Now nonprofits can voluntarily post information on their employees and board members, including their race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and any disability they might have. GuideStar is joined by the D5 Coalition, a group of 26 nonprofits and donor organizations, and Green 2.0, a group that advocates for increased diversity at environmental groups on the effort.

Last year, a study by Green 2.0 found that minorities made up less than 5 percent of board positions at environmental groups.

In their June 15 letter, the foundation chiefs urged other environmental groups to pledgeto post their diversity data by August 15.

“Many of our leading environmental organizations do not reflect the richness of our increasingly multicultural nation,” the letter reads. “Let us position our movement to win by benefiting from the perspectives of all Americans.”

The six foundations had varying levels of diversity among their boards and staff. The Bullitt Foundation, for example, reported that 50 percent of its staff members were white, 17 percent were African-American, 17 percent were Asian-American, and 17 percent were multiracial or multiethnic. (The figures don’t add up to 100 because of rounding.) The Hewlett Foundation reported lower diversity levels, with 67 percent white, 16 percent Asian-American, 7 percent Hispanic, 4 percent African-American, and 6 percent multiracial or multiethnic).

The foundations’ information isn’t meant to suggest to others that “we’re perfect and others aren’t,” said Kelly Brown, director of the D5 Coalition.

She said the foundations should be applauded for setting a good example for other nonprofits.

Danielle Deane, executive director of Green 2.0, agreed.

“They’re saying, ‘We have a long way to go,’ ” she said. “The very first step is to come clean about our data.”

The push for a more diverse nonprofit work force reflects a growing interest in inequality among foundations. The most notable example of such a trend came earlier this month when the Ford Foundation announced that all of its efforts would revolve around combating inequality.

Ms. Deane said that about 3,000 organizations had shared their diversity data since GuideStar included demographic fields on its website last year. She said many foundations have lagged, however, and was confident that the push by the six philanthropies would spur other grant makers.

“There’s been a lot of talk over the past several decades about diversity,” she says. “Now were seeing much more concrete actions.”

In June, for instance, the Sierra Club appointed Aaron Mair, an African-American expert in the mapping of disease growth, to serve as its board president.

Ms. Deane said his appointment serves as a signal in the competitive world of environmental nonprofits that the Sierra Club plans to aggressively tap into new sources of financial support and attract new talent from underrepresented populations.

If foundations take the lead, she said, nonprofit environmental organizations might follow. In April, her group released a study that showed many leading environmental groups had not shared their data with GuideStar.

Says Ms. Deane: “It will be a game changer if these foundations make it a requirement for their grantees to share their data.”

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