TeriLeaders on Diversity

By: Teri Behrens In: 2009 Annual Conference| Diversity and Inclusion

4 May 2009

In the session, “Diversity and Effectiveness in Philanthropy: A Leadership Exchange on Next Steps and Opportunities for the Field,” Foundation CEO’s  Carol Goss (Skillman), Sterling Speirn (W. K. Kellogg) and Diane Kaplan (Rasmuson Foundation), along with Aaron Dorfman, Executive Director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy spoke about their various efforts in diversity—the Diversity in Philanthropy Initiative, the NCRP standards, programmatic efforts, and efforts to diversify staffs and boards.

By my rough estimation, the attendees for this session were about one-third people of color with a mix of different roles—program officers, board members, investment and evaluation consultants, CEO’s, etc.

The first laugh from the audience came when the moderator said to Aaron, “You’ve made quite a name for yourself when you came out with the NCRP criteria.”  Aaron talked about the criteria as “aspirational goals” and how they are an expression of NCRP’s mission to represent the voice of disenfranchised communities.

Some memorable comments:

“Preach what you practice.”  (Sterling Speirn on the need for transparency about foundations’ own practices.)

“How does changing who you are change what you do?”  (Also SS. Curiously, this question—which seems to me to get at the heart of why we should worry about diversity—was never addressed!)

“It seems to me that ‘diversity’ is a surrogate for the question, ‘What is the role of philanthropy in a society that perpetuates inequality and injustice?’” (Observation by audience member Ricardo Millett that was not addressed by the panelists.)

“We added one Native American to our board, and he was always silent when issues related to Native Americans came up.  We realized how unfair it was to ask him to be the sole representative of that group. “ (Diane Kaplan on her biggest mistakes.)

“The work that 10 California funders did on increasing diversity in their grantees—I applaud it. However, the problem was defined as minority-led non-profits not knowing how to get foundation grants, rather than as funders not having the capacity to find high-performing minority led non-profits.”  (Audience comment that was greeted with applause.)

“Whether we are changing our internal structures, our work in communities, or our sector, this work is hard.” (Carol Goss)

“There is always a tension between funding groups that are more grassroots, closer to the ground, or those that are more likely to be effective.  It is important to have that conversation and understand the parameters.” (Aaron Dorfman)

My takeaways: philanthropy is taking diversity seriously, there’s a lot of effort and a lot of progress being made in diversifying foundation staff and boards and in thoughtfully engaging community members about what is important to them…and we still need more conversations in the field about why it matters.  The “effectiveness” part of this conversation was more of a “given” than something that was debated or discussed.

Teri Behrens is Editor of The Foundation Review, published by The Johnson Center at Grand Valley State University. You can read their blog here.

2 Responses to Leaders on Diversity

billo harper

May 4th, 2009 at 9:50 pm

Becky Rafter

May 5th, 2009 at 11:08 am

Thanks for blogging about this session Teri!

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