3 Ways Funders Can Promote the Collection of Diversity Data

Jasmine Marrow

At GuideStar, we’ve been collecting demographic information on nonprofit staff and board composition for the past four years. We’ve been recently reflecting on this work as we enter the next phase of nonprofits reporting on their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) journeys via GuideStar. CEP’s recent report, Nonprofit Diversity Efforts: Current Practices and the Role of Foundations, gives deeper insight and context to some of the trends we’ve been seeing in our own data. Here are the three things that struck me most when I read the report.

Organizations are collecting and sharing more data ― so help them do it well!

It’s encouraging to see just how many organizations report collecting demographic information. Over 70 percent of the nonprofit leaders responding to CEP’s survey report that they gather demographic information for their staffs and boards. Year after year at GuideStar, we’ve seen the number of organizations sharing this data via their GuideStar Nonprofit Reports grow. Although there is still a long way to go, more organizations examining this data in any capacity is a good thing.

What’s even more exciting is that over 80 percent of the organizations in the CEP study report examining the demographic makeup of the people they serve. In our research, we’ve learned that this is no easy task for organizations. Alignment on methodology and practice is needed to make this practice grow stronger and more reliable. As the appetite for this data grows, organizations are craving more support from foundations to collect it well.

Organizations answer what’s asked of them ― so ask more!

We’ve noticed a trend where comparatively fewer organizations share data on sexual orientation and disability as compared to race and ethnicity. Currently only 13 percent of organizations sharing demographic information through GuideStar share any data related to sexual orientation, and only 10 percent share data related to staff and leadership with disabilities. Reflecting on the recent CEP study, a large contributor to this lack of data may be that funders are not asking for it very often. The disability status and sexual orientation of an organization’s CEO, senior leadership, full staff, and board are all consistently requested less often from funders than gender identity and race/ethnicity, the CEP report finds.

Given that analysis and understanding is the first step to meaningful action, I’d like to see this trend change. All forms of diversity are important, and looking more readily at representation is an important first step for funders and nonprofits alike. Nonprofit Diversity Efforts finds that a combined total of 87 percent of nonprofit CEOs are at least somewhat comfortable sharing demographic information with funders. So, if asked — and supported in the process — nonprofits could collect this sexual orientation and disability information at higher rates.

Organizations are afraid to get started ― so motivate them!

I’ve noticed a trend (both in the data and in conversation) that worries me: organizations are more prone to sharing their demographic data when they feel they are more diverse. Trends in the GuideStar data show an above average representation of organizations led by people of color and women.

In some ways this is wonderful. It means that organizations doing strong work want to share those successes. But it also means that organizations without a large marginalized presence are not sharing. I’ve had conversations with leaders who are excited about the process but afraid of how it might reflect on them. The CEP report backs up this hunch as well, finding that “actual diversity of groups at the organization” is a top factor in an organization’s comfort in sharing demographic data at all.

It is not surprising that nonprofit leaders have this concern. A lot is riding on a funder’s perception of an organization. But the trend worries me because examining and reporting data is a huge part of growth.

I think often of this James Baldwin quote: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” It’s taken on a special meaning to me in this work. Sharing data, no matter your stage in the journey, is important. It helps to measure where you are and where you are going. And it also helps mark the way for other organizations getting started on the DEI path. Funders can help shift the conversation by showing organizations that the worst answer to demographic questions is no answer at all. 

Jasmine Marrow is GuideStar’s director of nonprofit strategy and a member of the GuideStar Equity Team.

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