Diversity, Inclusiveness, and Empowerment: Three Critical Tools for Philanthropy

Diversity, Inclusiveness, and Empowerment: Three Critical Tools for Philanthropy

There's a stereotype in the world of nonprofit organizations: White people have the money, and many of them donate or volunteer to help the poor who are, more often than not, minorities.

The reality, of course, is much more complex. In today's increasingly multicultural environment, nonprofit leaders frequently find that their supporters, staff, vendors, and clientele come from all racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, gender, and age groupings. African American, Latino, Asian, and gay and lesbian communities are raising significant amounts of charitable dollars to support their own. Minority constituents are serving on boards and volunteering their time to nonprofits that serve the entire community. In some communities, whites are or will soon become the new minority.

As America becomes more of a melting pot, the nonprofit sector will be deeply enmeshed in the ongoing evolution and empowerment of minority communities. Thus, the question must be asked: Is the nonprofit sector leading this evolution, or merely reacting to it?

By their very nature, foundations and charities are expected to be transformational. Each organization has its particular vision as to what will create a better world. Yet, while focusing on our strategic programmatic goals and directions, how many of us celebrate diversity as a core organizational value? How many of us recognize that to serve our communities and our causes most effectively, we must be committed to accepting and reflecting that diversity, respecting differences, and ensuring that all voices are heard and all are served regardless of race, gender, age, religion, creed, disability or sexual orientation? The most effective nonprofits recognize and utilize the full richness of all segments of society.

However, diversity alone is insufficient: To be highly effective, nonprofits must also link diversity to inclusiveness and empowerment.

Inclusiveness is a commitment to policies and procedures designed to change the dynamics of bias and ignorance that have often excluded individuals and groups from their rightful place in the community. An effective nonprofit should aspire to treat everyone equally, serve as a role model, and change others through its actions.

Empowerment represents the ability of individuals to be the best they can be and to participate fully with the freedom to do so. Nonprofits should be taking the lead to ensure that barriers, where found, are broken down and that all of an organization's actions are aimed at empowering individuals to achieve their full potential and control their own destinies.

There are any number of ways in which nonprofits can implement these tools. It starts with hiring practices, declaring in employee handbooks and employment policies that the organization is an equal opportunity employer committed to providing a work environment free of discrimination and unlawful harassment. Nonprofits should be taking the lead in making employee benefits available to domestic partners and offering reasonable accommodations because of an employee's disability or religion. Organizations should operate with clearly articulated value statements regarding respect for one another and the constituencies served, as well as a commitment to personal and professional development.

The vision should extend to the selection of board members who represent a wide cross-section of the communities that comprise your service region. For example, the Council on Foundations requires that for a local community foundation to comply with its rigorous national standards it must demonstrate an awareness of the community's demographics and how this awareness is integrated in the process of nominating or appointing members of the board.

The vision also extends to policies regarding selecting consultants and vendors who provide services.

A commitment to diversity, inclusiveness, and empowerment is significant not just for moral reasons, but economic ones as well: communities of color have money. Many people equate foundations with the awarding of grants to minority communities, yet community foundations are seeing a tremendous increase in the flow of philanthropic resources fromminority communities.

For example, the Philadelphia Foundation, which works to empower people throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, can trace its support of the civil rights movement as far back as 1948. We adopted our first empowerment policy in 1983 and undertook a pioneering strategic initiative in the early 1990s to increase philanthropic resources from minority communities. Today, more than 175 of our 750 charitable endowments have been established by and for the African American, Latino, Asian, and gay/lesbian communities.

The foundation has long embraced diversity, inclusiveness, and empowerment as core values. Our mission statement announces that the foundation "practices and encourages diversity, equity and inclusiveness as fundamental values of community." Where many foundations are perceived as being aloof and apart from their communities, we consider ourselves part of the communities we serve. We are accessible to all, and we value and embrace the differences that each person brings to our work. All people are created equal, and as such are regarded as equal when they interact with our organization internally and externally.

The benevolent tradition of minority communities is rich, diverse, and steeped in history. These constituents may or may not necessarily be wealthy, but they are all people who feel a keen sense of responsibility for giving something back to their community.

In fact, the Chronicle of Philanthropyreported in 2003 that the African American community doesn't just participate in philanthropy it trumps other major racial and ethnic groups in its generosity. According to the study, African Americans who give to charity donate 25 percent more of their discretionary income than do whites.

Today's philanthropists are as likely to be minorities as whites, whether they are a group of university women, a family who lost a loved one in an accident, someone who wants to find a cure for a disease, or an entrepreneur who wants to endow a scholarship to help others follow in his or her footsteps. And with growing numbers of minorities entering the middle and upper classes, many of today's more affluent minorities represent the first generation of wealth in their families, creating a new dynamic of people who feel a responsibility to give something back.

We cannot just pay lip service to diversity, inclusiveness, and empowerment or add them to a mission statement. We have to live them and breathe them every day, in all of our programs, services, and activities.

The nonprofit sector has a particular responsibility to set the highest standards. By focusing our energy and our resources, we can promote social change. We are a significant societal and economic sector one that is largely driven by values. To fail to take a leadership position in this critical issue would do each of us individually, and the field collectively, a huge disservice.

R. Andrew Swinney is president and CEO of the Philadelphia Foundation, which was established in 1918 to provide philanthropic services to Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties.