Are Funders and Their Grantees Discussing Racial Diversity?

As my colleague Kevin Bolduc and I discussed in a previous post, CEP sought to understand the degree to which funders and their grantees are communicating about racial diversity. Between spring 2010 and fall 2011, we collected data about this topic from more than 10,000 grantees of 70 US funders. Here is what we’ve found.

Is communication happening about racial diversity as it relates to foundations’ programmatic work?

Thirty-eight percent of grantees report that their foundation funder communicated with them about racial diversity in relation to the foundation’s programmatic work. Just over a quarter said communication about this topic did not take place, but that it also wasn’t relevant. Fifteen percent of grantees said the foundation didn’t have this communication with them but should have. (See Figure 1)

Is communication happening about racial diversity as it relates to the work associated with the grant received?

Thirty-eight percent of grantees report that their funder communicated with them about racial diversity as it relates to the work associated with the grant they received. Few grantees – 11 percent – think that their funder should’ve communicated with them about this topic but hadn’t. Almost a third – thirty-one percent – said such communication didn’t happen, and wasn’t relevant. (See Figure 1)

Figure 1:

Seventy-five percent of the grantees reporting that they and their funder communicated about racial diversity as it relates to the funder’s programmatic work also report that communication on this topic took place regarding the work associated with the grant received.

To what extent did this communication have a positive or negative impact?

Grantees reporting that their funder communicated with them about racial diversity in relation to the work funded were asked to what extent that communication had a positive or negative impact on the work. Hardly any grantees report that these communications had negative consequences, but there is certainly room for these communications to have more beneficial results. Forty percent indicate that the communications had neither a positive nor negative effect. Less than a quarter of grantees – 23 percent – gave the highest possible impact rating for these communications. (See Figure 2)

It is important to note that we do see some foundations faring better than others on this question. There are a few foundations for which the majority of their grantees give them the highest rating possible on this item.

Figure 2:

Do grantees believe that racial diversity was a relevant component of the work they were funded to do?

Sixty percent of grantees say that the work funded by their foundation grant was meant to address a topic for which they believe racial diversity was relevant. These grantees are more likely to report having communications with their funders about racial diversity as it relates to the funded work – yet only 55 percent of these grantees report that such communication happened. (See Figure 3)

Figure 3:

What Does It Mean?

From the data, it does not seem that grantees desire more communication with their funders about racial diversity. Few grantees that didn’t have such communication with their funder wish they had. This is true even among those grantees that explicitly told us in their survey responses that they believe racial diversity is a relevant component of the work they were funded to do.

When communication is happening, it doesn’t seem to be all that helpful to grantees. Grantees are not saying that it’s harmful, but few are saying that it had a very positive impact. From our data, it is not possible to know if, or how, these communications could have a more positive impact – or if grantees even desire to be influenced in any way by their funders on this topic.

There is much we cannot know from this data that is relevant to the communications that took place. For example, who initiated communication on this topic – the grantee or the funder? What were the circumstances of the communication? Were questions posed from one party to another or did an in-depth conversation take place?

Stepping away from interpreting the data and reflecting on our method, it is possible that we simply did not ask the right questions in our survey, or ask them in the way that would be most relevant to grantees’ experiences and preferences.

Perhaps just as interesting as the data is the way it has been used. The fact is, data from these items has not been of great interest to many of the foundations commissioning the GPR. As a result, as of spring 2012, we removed these items from our core survey and have made them optional for funders wishing to collect this information from their grantees. This does not mean that our efforts to further understand the role of diversity in effective philanthropy have ended, but we do not think that continuing to collect data from these particular survey items will result in more useful information than we have been able to gather to date.

I hope readers of the CEP Blog will weigh in with interpretations of – or reactions to – this data, or with research ideas that CEP could pursue to make a further contribution to the role of diversity, equity, and inclusion in effective philanthropy.

Ellie Buteau is CEP’s Vice President – Research.

 

 

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