Suggested Strategies: Promoting Diversity and Vigorous Equal Opportunity/Outcomes PDF Print E-mail

Foundations should be clear that working to fully define and serve the Common Good and the effective pursuit of missions require, as both a necessary means and a laudable end, the equitable participation of all diverse sectors of society. The Common Good is for everyone. While few would argue with that statement, foundation decision-makers do not always take steps that are needed to ensure that all kinds of people will benefit from philanthropy as they should. Race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identification, disability, national origin, religion, age, the economic history of someone’s family and one’s own socioeconomic position, as well as other personal characteristics, correlate with different levels of access to influence and resources throughout American society. “Equal opportunity” is an ideal that has not yet been fully realized or reflected in outcomes, and which needs to be pursued and promoted vigorously.

Foundations can more effectively pursue both their narrower missions and the broader Common Good when their decision-makers themselves reflect greater diversity. Many corporations have already learned that people from different backgrounds can contribute different perspectives and skills to a decision-making body, and that this brings strength that is reflected on the bottom line.1

Yet, foundations themselves tend to reflect the wider society’s inequitable power relations in their grantmaking, and often have organizational cultures, staffs and boards that serve to direct resources inordinately to “mainstream” institutions, organizations and programs. Scholars know that all people tend to support what is culturally familiar to them, what is within their frame of reference and comfort zone. The Common Good cannot easily be served from such narrow perspectives.

Caring to Change suggests that foundations can more effectively pursue both their narrower missions and the broader Common Good when their decision-makers have greater diversity. Our society will be better served by foundation officials who become even more aware of the ways in which disparities linked to diversity and income-level operate in their organizations and environments, and when their operations reflect a genuine commitment to promoting the Common Good for all – both internally and in the wider world. Foundations can provide leadership by assigning diversity the priority it should have both as a moral issue and as instrumental to internal and external organizational effectiveness.

SUGGESTED STRATEGY 2: Foundations should frankly acknowledge, in their words and deeds, that part of their essential role is to promote the Common Good for all members of society, and that in order to fulfill that role, they will lead efforts to promote diversity and vigorously pursue equal opportunity internally as well as in their grantmaking.

Foundations should make it known that all grant programs give preference to nonprofit organizations that can demonstrate high levels of diversity in their governance and operation, and they should work to advance diversity in grantee organizations. Such efforts should go beyond increasing the representation of various categories of people on staffs and boards. In keeping with their commitments to the Common Good, foundations should themselves also create diverse boards and staffs. Foundations should seek to “be the change they wish to see in the world.”

The costs of significant diversity activities and evaluation of them should be identified, included in project and program budgets, and funded with equivalent importance to all other program expenses.

2.1 Create supportive environments and provide resources for foundation and nonprofit leaders to address diversity.

2.2 Affirm that diversity is a central concern in all program areas and for general support grants.

2.3 Support nonprofit organizational development initiatives that address concerns of diversity and which vigorously pursue equality of opportunity/outcomes.

2.4 Make seed grants to nonprofit organizations that wish to establish “diversity steering panels.”

1. Page, Scott E. The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.


Material on this site is based on the report Foundations for the Common Good. You are invited to download a complimentary copy or purchase the printed report.

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