CEP’s Work to Date on the Topic of Racial Diversity in Philanthropy

In the past several years, discussions about foundations and diversity – in particular diversity as it relates to race – have surfaced more frequently in philanthropy. Perhaps one of the most widely known – if highly controversial – efforts came from The Greenlining Institute’s work on The Foundation Diversity and Transparency Act. Since then, a number of conversations and working groups have formed in the field, including the D5 Coalition. Last year, The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (an organization that has focused on diversity and inclusion for many years), launched Philanthropy’s Promise to encourage foundations to prioritize the needs of underserved populations.

We have been asked repeatedly by funders and others what we know about diversity in philanthropy from CEP’s data and research.

CEP’s work focuses on what foundations can do to be more effective in their work, through their governance, their staff, their operations, and their work with key stakeholders including grantees and beneficiaries. For us, then, focusing the conversation on the role that diversity, equity, and inclusion play in effective philanthropy is essential.

For years we have collected some basic demographic information about those who have participated in our research and assessment tool surveys. We want to share what we have learned from two of our efforts to analyze data from our Grantee Perception Report (GPR) surveys.

Who fills out our GPR survey?

When a foundation commissions a GPR in order to understand how its grantees perceive it, we send a survey to the grantee staff member whom the foundation tells us is its primary contact. Those survey respondents complete the grantee survey (sometimes with assistance from their colleagues) and have the option on the survey of indicating their race, which many do.

Are respondents of color having different experiences working with funders than white respondents?

Over time, we have examined our data to understand if respondents of color were having different experiences working with funders than white respondents – and if so, in what ways. Most recently, we conducted this analysis with data from the past five years (2007 through 2011) – from over 20,000 grantee survey respondents about their experiences working with one of 148 funders.

The answer, which remains unchanged from analyses we had run with data from 2004 through 2008, was surprising to some with whom we discussed our findings: The 21 percent of respondents who identified as people of color during the last five years on our survey don’t report having different experiences with funders than white respondents. While we have in a few instances seen concerning differences by grantee respondent race for individual foundations, we didn’t see such patterns across the grantees in our larger dataset.

Are foundations and their grantees communicating about issues of racial diversity?

In recent years, we have considered what else we could be doing on this issue. We sought advice widely from foundations and other organizations working in philanthropy and received a lot of conflicting advice and counsel. Individuals from these organizations told us:

  • “Focus specifically on racial diversity because there are so many aspects of diversity and you need to choose one.”
  • “Don’t focus just on racial diversity because by doing so you deny the importance of other kinds of diversity.”
  • “Your survey tool could be useful in ‘counting’ – getting grantees to report on their diversity and the diversity of their beneficiaries. Focus on that.”

We researched what types of data had already been collected by Foundation Center and other organizations. (Foundation Center has a very broad bibliography of research related to diversity in philanthropy.) Much of the work that had been done focused either on the racial composition of foundations’ staffs, or the proportion of grants or grant dollars going to particular issues or populations, which is not easy to measure, as Foundation Center President Brad Smith discussed in a recent interview with Alliance magazine.

We felt that one key element missing from the existing work on diversity in philanthropy was the grantee perspective on their funders’ role – and efforts – on this issue. We decided that developing a better understanding of whether foundations and grantees are even communicating about racial diversity was an important place to start, and a topic we were well-positioned to contribute to through our ongoing work. From the spring of 2010 to the fall of 2011, we included the following questions in the standard GPR survey:

  1. Has the Foundation communicated with you about racial diversity as it relates to:
    • The Foundation itself (staff, board, etc.)
    • The Foundation’s programmatic work (funding, mission, programs)
    • Your organization (staff, board, etc.)
    • The work associated with this grant in particular
  2. If yes to your organization, to what extent did this communication have a positive or negative impact on your organization?
  3. If yes to the work associated with this grant in particular, to what extent did this communication have a positive or negative impact on the work associated with this grant in particular?
  4. Is the work funded by this grant meant to address topics for which you believe racial diversity is a relevant component?

In addition, we developed a module of optional questions that foundations subscribing to the GPR could choose to include in the survey we sent to their grantees.

To our surprise, given all the talk and requests for CEP to do more to collect data about this issue from foundations, very few foundations were interested in using the optional questions. A number of foundations even objected to the questions we added to our standard survey, arguing that we shouldn’t focus only on racial diversity, or that the questions just weren’t relevant to their work, or that the “diversity” wording we used did not fit how the foundation had been communicating with its grantees.

Nonetheless, we decided to proceed with collecting data on these standard survey questions from grantees of 70 foundations from spring of 2010 to fall 2011. In a forthcoming post, Ellie will share what we learned from that data and what new questions our findings raised.


Ellie Buteau is CEP’s Vice President – Research. Kevin Bolduc is CEP’s Vice President – Assessment Tools.


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