Racial Equity - Funders for LGBTQ Issues
About the Toolkit
The benefits of multiple perspectives

More and more foundations, at the CEO and trustee level, are recognizing that enhanced diversity and inclusion can improve grantmaking and help address complex, entrenched societal issues. The Diversity in Philanthropy Project discusses how grantmakers can support LGBTQ communities of color by first engaging them in conversation.

Tell me about the Diversity in Philanthropy Project. How did it come about? What is its role in the philanthropic sector?

The Diversity in Philanthropy Project (DPP) has endeavored to be a catalyst, a brief and intense effort to spark renewed energy for what we see as an imperative: for philanthropy to exemplify diversity, inclusive practice, and attention to social equity in its composition, operations, and community interactions.

More specifically, the Diversity in Project (DPP) is a three-year campaign (2007-2009) now in its final phase. Our goal has been to elevate diversity and inclusion on philanthropy's national agenda and more prominently embed it in the philanthropic consciousness. The effort stands on the shoulders of giants—many groups, particularly affinity groups of grantmakers like Funders for LGBTQ Issues, have been working on these issues for a long time.

DPP's approach has been to bring together an unprecedented cohort of diverse philanthropic leaders committed to promoting diversity and inclusion in our profession and society. DPP's work has focused in three areas: promoting voluntary diversity and inclusion initiatives; advancing a national system of data collection, analysis and accountability; and supporting the advancement, organization and distribution of knowledge resources. Since its inception, DPP has served as a convener, a contributor to the literature base, a supporter of individual funder and infrastructure group efforts, and a facilitator of field collaborations to move the dial on diversity and inclusion issues.

Where is American philanthropy in terms of diversity and inclusion? Are there current signs of progress?

We obviously still have a way to go, but there are signs of progress. First, on the individual foundation level, we're seeing foundations like Rockefeller Brothers Fund and The California Endowment voluntarily undertaking internal assessments and designing plans to increase diversity and build more inclusive organizational cultures. And 36 leading philanthropic organizations and 17 field leaders have signed onto the DPP Principles and Practices, which DPP created to inspire deeper commitment and strategic action.

In the past, discussion about diversity and inclusion often happened among program officers. Now we are seeing numbers of philanthropic CEOs and trustees engaged as well. This is a key sign of progress. DPP was created to engage foundation executives and trustees—the front-line decision makers in philanthropy—and now 33 of them sit on our advisory board.

At the sector level, there has been expanded field-wide dialogue on these issues. Diversity and inclusion are front and center topics at conferences of philanthropic infrastructure groups like the Council of Michigan Foundations, Independent Sector, Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, and the Council on Foundations. And conference diversity sessions have standing room only attendance. People in the field want to talk about these issues.

Finally, infrastructure groups with historically different perspectives—and what in the past have been "siloed" efforts on diversity and inclusion—are collaborating in new and sustained ways. DPP's primary focus now is to facilitate this collaboration so that diversity and inclusion are no longer sideline issues in our field.

So we've seen progress, but we try to remind ourselves that the philanthropic sector is not a nimble boat—more like a large barge that turns very slowly. And the work doesn't really end. Demographics shift. People find new ways to define themselves and their differences. Age-old "isms" are hard to extinguish. The key is greater intentionality in the approach to diversity and inclusion, and we're definitely seeing more of that.

The argument is often made that a more diverse foundation will lead to greater effectiveness and impact. What's the relationship?

While the empirical link between effectiveness and diversity in philanthropy is still under exploration, there's lots of qualitative evidence connecting diversity to effectiveness and impact in our field. Mary Ellen Capek and Molly Mead's award-winning book, Effective Philanthropy: Organizational Success Through Deep Diversity and Gender Equality (MIT Press, 2006) documents links between established effective philanthropy benchmarks and organizations that have learned to practice and institutionalize "deep diversity."

In our work with the Council of Michigan Foundations, launching their five-year diversity and inclusion effort, foundations committed to diversity were convinced they were more able to address their mission as a result. Specifically, CEOs, trustees and senior staff believed that:

  • Diversity makes for better grantmaking. Having diverse—and representative—perspectives informing grantmaking means less of a gap of experience and perspective between grantmakers and grantseekers and more chance that funding will have the desired impact in the communities and organizations that receive it.
  • Diversity and inclusion open doors. Even well-intentioned and well-conceived projects are easily derailed when they aren't planned with the right players at the table—whether through foundation insularity, because the relationships just aren't there, or because of a perception that funding has to move too quickly to engage communities in authentic ways.
  • Diversity of thought is necessary to address complex, entrenched issues. The increasing complexity of the long-standing social problems that foundations address requires teams that can look at the issues from different perspectives.
  • Diversity and inclusion efforts help foundations practice what they preach. For foundations focused on dismantling structural barriers to equality and expanding resources to include populations underrepresented and among the most disadvantaged and underserved in our society, diversity and inclusion efforts present a way to remedy these inequities among their philanthropic decision making and grantee ranks.
Meanwhile, outside philanthropy, research is finding an empirical link between diversity and effectiveness. For example, Scott E. Page, professor of complex systems, political science and economics at the University of Michigan, has documented in mathematical terms how diversity boosts productivity in organizations, fields of study, and even geographic communities.

We believe these findings translate to the independent sector, and documenting this link will be part of the collaborative infrastructure group work we're promoting: to conduct research that describes relationships between diversity efforts and philanthropy's capacity for social impact.

You've partnered with Funders for LGBTQ Issues on a number of projects, notably our Common Vision project, which brought together grantmakers from the Midwest and New England and to build healthy communities with widespread equity. Why are LGBTQ issues an important part of a field-wide agenda for diversity?

DPP's definition of diversity has always explicitly included LGBTQ identities and concerns. We think it's critical to approach diversity and inclusion issues from perspectives both wide and deep, embracing a broad range of human difference—particularly human difference that results in disenfranchisement.

We also think it's important to include those who are often among the first to be excluded from conversations about diversity. The LGBTQ community is in this category. Historically, it has been too easy for philanthropy to leave LGBTQ issues off the table, most likely because addressing sexuality and gender identity issues raises discomfort and exposes often unarticulated cultural biases and prejudices.

The only way philanthropy can succeed at comprehensive, effective grantmaking is to acknowledge the complexity of our socio-cultural fabric, understand root causes of problems, and develop innovative interventions—and that can't be accomplished without representatives of all different kinds of people at the table.

This toolkit is specifically exploring how funders can better support LGBTQ communities of color. How are the diverse perspectives of LGBTQ people of color important to the philanthropic sector?

LGBTQ people of color have been marginalized on every front, and their issues and the needs of their organizations are almost never addressed directly by grantmakers. By working at intersections of race/ethnicity and sexual orientation, philanthropy can develop the nuanced and complex understandings of difference needed to promote real, positive change.

Finally, what advice would you give to a grantmaker who's interested in exploring funding to LGBTQ communities of color?

As with funding in any new community, it's critical to become educated and develop relationships first. Funders should not expect to have credibility without representation and thoughtful relationship-building. We'd strongly suggest reaching out to organizations that can provide foundations new to this work with orientation and technical assistance as they explore funding options. Groups like Funders for LGBTQ Issues are reliable, excellent resources, as are other funders and nonprofit organizations with a history of working on these issues.

The work of relationship-building isn't rocket science, but it does take effort and commitment over time as well as willingness to learn and comfort with discomfort. Funders new to this type of funding need to identify LGBTQ leaders of color in their funding communities of interest. Then they need to invite them to the table—or at least out to lunch: have candid conversations about their community needs, opportunities, and issues. Learn more about where they see opportunities and invite advice.

Ideally, a foundation can bring LGBTQ leaders of color onto its staff or board, or at least start with advisory groups. Advisory boards or task forces from the community can provide expertise and the authentic wisdom that this work requires. It is also critical for a foundation to take a hard look at its own policies and practices in relation to LGBTQ staff and vendors—do foundations practice the kind of inclusion and provide the types of benefits that ensure equity?

Finally, we would encourage grantmakers to collaborate with others as they develop new funding approaches. There's strength in numbers. Funders for LGBTQ Issues is a unique resource for helping grantmakers move toward more effective philanthropy around these and other pressing issues.

Jessica Bearman, Anna-Nanine S. Pond, Mary Ellen Capek, Consultant Team, Diversity in Philanthropy Project (New York, NY)

Jessica Bearman is the Diversity in Philanthropy Project's Strategic Planning Facilitator. She is an independent consultant focusing on project development and strategic advising for philanthropic organizations. Previously, she served as deputy director of The Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers' New Ventures in Philanthropy initiative, a national project designed to grow philanthropic giving.

Anna-Nanine S. Pond is the Operations Director for the Diversity in Philanthropy Project. She is an independent consultant specializing in ways to help nonprofits and foundations build their capacity to serve diverse, low-income populations. She also served as a program officer at The California Endowment, California's largest private community health funder.

Mary Ellen Capek has been a Senior Advisor to the Diversity in Philanthropy Project since 2007. She is principal of Capek & Associates, a philanthropic and nonprofit research and consulting group, and the co-author of Effective Philanthropy: Organizational Success through Deep Diversity and Gender Equality, which won the 2007 Independent Sector/ARNOVA Virginia A. Hodgkinson Research Prize for the best book on philanthropy in the nonprofit sector that informs policy and practice.

Diversity in Philanthropy Project