Racial Diversity of Foundation Leadership and Impact

This post, written by former CEP Associate Manager, Research, Ramya Gopal, is part of a series looking back at data that CEP has collected on race. It draws on findings from CEP’s 2013 report, How Far Have We Come? Foundation CEOs on Progress and Impact.

Diversity — in particular, racial diversity — has become an increasingly discussed issue in the context of foundation effectiveness. Much of the data fueling these discussions has been about the demographics of foundation staff, leaders, and boards and the policies that foundations have regarding diversity. But how do foundation CEOs perceive the connection between racial diversity of foundation leadership and foundations’ ability to have impact? 

In a survey that we conducted in 2013, we asked foundation CEOs to what extent they agreed with the statements, “Foundations would be able to create more impact if their leadership teams were more racially diverse” and “Foundations would be able to create more impact if their governing boards were more racially diverse.”

Nearly half of CEOs believe that foundations would be able to create more impact if their leadership teams were more racially diverse and 47 percent of CEOs believe that foundations would be able to create more impact if their boards were more racially diverse. Few CEOs disagreed with either sentiment, but a sizeable proportion took a neutral stance. (CEP’s earlier research indicates that getting full participation from board members of color is more likely to happen under certain circumstances. We found that when boards have three or more members of color, board members of color more strongly believe that they have an equal opportunity to have influence on the board.)

Of CEOs who responded to our survey, 14 percent of CEOs self-identified as people of color. These CEOs were more likely to strongly agree that foundations would be able to create more impact if their governing boards were more racially diverse; 45 percent of CEOs of color strongly agreed with this sentiment, while 12 percent of white CEOs did.

To read more about CEP’s research on foundation CEOs’ perceptions of how much progress foundations have made and what foundations can do to increase their impact, see the report How Far Have We Come? Foundation CEOs on Progress and Impact.

Ramya Gopal is a former associate manager, research, at the Center for Effective Philanthropy.

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