by Denise St. Omer
I’m tired of talking about diversity. You heard me right. I’m a black woman in philanthropy and I’m done engaging in conversations about diversity. Conversations about diversity create spaces for people to engage in activities that make them feel like they’re doing something, but don’t actually move forward toward creating inclusive environments that promote equity.
A recent conversation with a local group of funders illustrates my diversity rather than inclusivity point. During that meeting, we were discussing the benefits of creating a common grant application form for local funders. One of the examples, used by a group of funders in another region, included an application that asked two questions, out of a total of 24, on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The stated goal of these questions was to provide “a valuable perspective to grantmakers about potential grantees capacity to navigate DEI issues, and encourage self-assessment and dialogue about DEI issues by both nonprofits and funders.” Sounds great, right? How could I possibly have a problem with utilizing an application form that asks questions about an organization’s demographics and DEI initiatives?
Asking questions about the racial and ethnic composition of nonprofit boards and staff is nothing new. Grantmakers have been doing this for years. A 2017 report on nonprofit board practices released by BoardSource found that nonprofit boards are no more diverse than they were two years ago and current recruitment priorities indicate that is unlikely to change. Nearly a fifth of all chief executives surveyed reported that they are not prioritizing demographics in their board recruitment strategy, despite being dissatisfied with their board’s racial and ethnic diversity. The data on staff diversity in nonprofits tells a similar story. Research by Community Wealth Partners on diversity in the nonprofit sector found that although people of color represent 30% of the American workforce, only 18% of nonprofit staff and 8% of nonprofit executive directors were people of color. Similarly, while providing cultural competency or implicit bias training is great, unless this work is part of a comprehensive initiative that includes an in-depth, extended process at all levels of the organization, we are unlikely to see change.
Equity in grantmaking involves using targeted strategies that apply differential resources to meet unequal needs. Tackling equity issues requires an understanding of the underlying, or root causes of outcome disparities within our communities. It’s not as simple as asking a few questions about an organization’s demographic data and DEI activities. And while a truly inclusive group is necessarily diverse, a diverse group may or may not be inclusive. It’s time to move from a focus on diversity to a commitment to inclusion. And that can’t be accomplished by only asking a few questions on a grant application. So, let’s ask the questions and use the answers to inform our work. Track the data on board and staff diversity over time. If you’re not seeing any meaningful increases, then consider creating a funding stream to support nonprofit inclusiveness. The Denver Foundation’s Inclusiveness Project is a great example of how foundations can support this work.
Denise St. Omer is vice president of grantmaking and inclusion initiatives for the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. With an asset base of more than $2.8 billion, the Community Foundation ranks among the top 1 percent of community foundations in the country, a position it has held since 1999. Denise is responsible for overseeing grantmaking activities including the assessment and tracking of all major grants for clients that use the Community Foundation’s grantmaking services, as well as oversight of the Community Foundation’s discretionary funds. In addition, Denise is responsible for leading the Community Foundation’s leadership work focused on equity and inclusion and she is a member of the Equity Advisory Group for Grantmakers for Effective Organizations.