Philanthropy and foundations exist and work for change within systems pervaded with racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism, among other harmful “-isms.” In fact, some foundations have amassed their wealth precisely because of these inequitable systems. These forces of marginalization can be so insidious that even people and organizations of very good intention can succumb.
That’s one important reason why, across all of CEP’s data collection efforts, from fieldwide research surveys to our engagements with individual funders, we ask respondents to share demographics, and we examine responses for any differences based on those characteristics, including their race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability identities. It’s one way of living CEP’s diversity, equity, and inclusion values, and a tangible way that we can advance our belief that philanthropy must be a participant in dismantling the inequitable systems that hold us all back.
Last year, in a series of reports, we reported on differences in grantees’ experiences associated with their race and ethnicity, particularly focused on the less positive experiences Native American and Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders have with foundation funders.
When it comes to gender, we have also sometimes seen differences between men and women in their experiences with and perceptions of their funders. For example, in our 2020 report on funder support for nonprofits during the pandemic, we highlighted that major donors were significantly less likely to have talked with nonprofits that are led by women about how they will support them in the future. And in our Grantee Perception Report (GPR) for individual funders, it’s not uncommon for us to raise differences we see in results so that funders can interrogate where there might be gender-associated differences in their practices — even when they’re consciously trying to treat all grantees with equity and inclusion. Comprehensive data is powerful in that way.
More broadly, when we zoom out and look across the tens of thousands of grantee experiences across hundreds of funders using the GPR, we found a mix of positive and alarming signals.
- The positive: There are very few statistically significant differences between the experiences of men and women, including in their ratings of the quality of relationships they have with their funders.
- The alarming: There is a pattern of differences in which respondents who identify as nonbinary, gender nonconforming, or who select multiple gender identities are having less positive experiences with their funders than respondents who identify only as men or women.
The GPR dataset contains responses from more than 50,000 nonprofits that received grants from more than 300 foundations. About one third of these respondents are men, and about 60 percent are women. Less than one percent are nonbinary, gender nonconforming, or selected multiple gender identities. (The remainder chose not to share their demographics.)
Across the variables in the GPR, men and women provided similar ratings of their experiences with foundation funders. For example, men and women provided comparable ratings on their comfort approaching the foundation if a problem arises, the foundation’s transparency, the extent to which their funders understood their organizations goals and strategies, the needs of their beneficiaries, and the social, cultural, and socioeconomic context in which they worked. Likewise, men and women felt similar, relatively low, levels of pressure from funders to modify their organization’s priorities in order to create a grant proposal that was likely to receive funding. And ratings were similar for the extent to which both men and women felt their funders exemplified a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion — both as an organization and in individual interactions.
On the other hand, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and respondents who selected multiple gender identities rated their funders lower than those that identified only as men or women on a wide range of topics, including:
- Their comfort approaching the foundation if a problem arises
- The foundation’s understanding of the social, cultural, or socioeconomic factors that affect their work
- The amount of pressure they felt to modify their organization’s priorities in order to receive funding
- The foundation’s understanding of their intended beneficiaries’ needs
- The extent to which the foundation’s funding priorities reflect a deep understanding of their intended beneficiaries’ needs
- The foundation’s understanding of the local community in which they work
- How clearly the foundation communicated its goals and strategies
- The foundation’s commitment to combatting racism
All of these differences persist even when we controlled for the budget size of the organization.
These two findings should be cause for both celebration and concern. In a society in which women face a multitude of workplace discriminations from gender pay gaps to outright harassment, it’s encouraging that men’s and women’s experiences with funders, as reported through the GPR, are similar. Still, this finding does not diminish the other challenges that women face in the nonprofit sector, for example in their underrepresentation in leadership roles particularly at the largest organizations. There is work to be done.
And, of course, the pattern of lower ratings by nonbinary and gender nonconforming respondents should be cause for alarm. Moreover, because of the small number of nonbinary and gender nonconforming grantees, it’s usually not possible for CEP to conduct this kind of analysis for an individual funder that commissions a GPR. That could make it particularly easy for these less positive experiences to go unnoticed and persist. Funders should see this finding as a call to action and should look critically at their internal training, practices, and approaches to building relationships with grantees to ensure they are equitable for nonprofit leaders who identify as nonbinary and gender nonconforming.
Katarina Malmgren is a senior analyst, Research, at CEP. Kevin Bolduc is vice president, Assessment and Advisory services, at CEP.