News Column

Study Reveals Lack of Board Diversity

July 2, 2009


board diversity, still suffering, greenlining institute, study

A new report states it in black and white: Color is lacking on the boards of directors of the 46 largest independent foundations in the United States.

The Greenlining Institute has found that although a quarter of all board directors of the 46 foundations are African-American, Hispanic or Asian-American, 28 percent of the foundations examined do not have a single person of color on their boards.

The statistics for Hispanics are more disheartening: 56.5 percent of the foundations have no Latino directors.

In other notable results, the institute found that the more diverse the board, the more grant-making there is to people of color. And the staffs for the foundations are vastly more diverse than their board leadership.

"Whatever the mission of the foundation, the board should actively seek qualified candidates of color with influence in their communities in order to bring in the perspective necessary to increase their influence in communities of color," Christian Gonzalez-Rivera, Greenlining's research program manager and author of the report, told

The study noted that people of color comprise 34 percent of the population of the United States, with 15 percent Latinos, 12.8 percent African-Americans and 4.4 percent Asian-Americans.

Yet despite such diversity in the U.S., 13 of the 46 largest foundations have no people of color on their boards, according to Greenlining, which identified them as: Annenberg Foundation, The Brown Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, The Moody Foundation, Lilly Endowment, The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation Inc., McKnight Foundation, W.M. Keck Foundation, Richard King Mellon Foundation, Walton Family Foundation, Inc. and Robert W. Woodruff Foundation.

The U.S. Census has projected that Hispanics will comprise half of the nation's population by 2050. "If American philanthropy is to respond to these very real demographic changes, it needs to ensure that diverse voices, opinions, and cultural competency are well-represented in positions of influence," Gonzalez-Rivera said.

The positive news is that 33 of the 46 foundations studied have people of color on their boards, led by the California Wellness Foundation, whose goal is to improve the health of Californians. In its boardroom, 70 percent of the directors are people of color, with 30 percent Latino.

Previous research by Greenlining has shown that there is a strong correlation between foundations with diverse boards and their investments in organizations led by people of color. While Greenlining stressed that a diversified board "is not the sole panacea that will lead to greater diversity in a foundation's grant-making process," it said that such diversity would help "to build the cultural capital necessary to truly be responsive" to grant-making opportunities involving people of color.

A particular challenge discovered by Greenlining is diversifying the boards of directors of family foundations. Traditionally, those positions are held by family and close associates.

"Strategically selected non-family board members can bring with them knowledge and skills that represent values that the foundation wishes to embody," the report stated.

Greenlining cited New York City-based Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, whose aim is to promote a sustainable and just social and natural system, as one that has made the commitment to diversity. Ten of its 16 board members are from outside of the family. Its Web site states that it values a diverse board because it can better respond to the variety of groups seeking grants; it can be more accountable to the grantees and the communities they serve; and its perspective on the economic, political and social problems it seeks to resolve is broadened.

Gonzalez-Rivera said foundations would do well to consider how their work can be more effective by serving communities of color.

"This consideration does not have to be limited to foundations that fund social justice," he said. "A foundation that supports medical work can fund pipeline programs for underserved communities interested in nursing programs, for example, or foundations that support environmental causes can fund environmental justice organizations, or organizations that bring underserved youth in contact with the natural environment."

Greenlining also found that foundation staffs were much more diverse than their boards. "It is typical at most institutions that hold wealth and influence that the higher you go in the ranks, the less people of color you will see," Gonzalez-Rivera said. "Foundations need a commitment to the importance of diversity to their mission right from the top," he said, "and only with that understanding will they include more people of color with diverse experience in their ranks."

Diversity on foundation boards today is not a luxury, Gonzalez-Rivera said,
but a necessity.

"Diversity cannot continue to be a liberal afterthought in our nation's influential institutions," he said. "Diversity is also not a 'minority issue.' The future of America lies in ensuring that people of color have equal opportunity to advance and succeed, since people of color are the new majority in America."

The full report can be found here.

Source: (c) 2009. All rights reserved.

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