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Nonprofits fall short on diversity

People meeting in a cafeteria

The nonprofit sector works at the forefront of advancing equality in the U.S. – but if you look inside these organizations, are they practicing what they preach?

While the nonprofit sector is expected to uphold a higher standard of diversity, it isn’t meeting it.

At the top, Leading With Intent found that 90% percent of board chairs, 80% of board seats, and 89% of CEOs are held by White individuals. The composition of the workforce isn't any better. A recent foundation survey by the Council on Foundations found that racial and ethnic minorities continue to be underrepresented at all staffing levels at U.S. foundations, accounting for just 26% of all full-time foundation staff.

This reality is a stark contrast to the championing role the sector plays in promoting and supporting diversity.

So where are nonprofits going wrong?

Network Recruitment

71% of boards and 75% of CEOs think a more diverse board would make them better at fulfilling their mission, but many nonprofits rely on existing board members to recruit new members from their social network, a strategy that can be inherently limiting. Research has found that people’s social networks are largely racially homogeneous. In fact, 91% of White Americans’ social networks are comprised of other White Americans. Recruitment efforts need to tap into new networks to access more diverse communities. This can mean engaging other nonprofits or hiring consultants to access professional and social networks beyond the organization's immediate reach.

Organizational Culture

While 45% of the boards and 69% of the CEOs have expressed dissatisfaction with diversity in their organization, organizational culture can be a barrier to promoting diversity in the workforce and leadership team. Nonprofits need to tackle any of their own biases and commit to a culture of non-discrimination. This starts by recognizing the intersections between race, sexuality, age and professional development within the organization. The Building Movement Project found that twice as many LGBTQ people of color identified their race as having a negative impact (38%) on their professional trajectory, compared to their sexual orientation (18%). At these intersections, individuals need the support of their employer to promote a work environment of non-discrimination and inclusion where new leaders can be cultivated.

In the absence of robust anti-discrimination policy in the U.S., nonprofits need to lead by example. This means investing internally as well as externally to bring more diversity to the nonprofit sector. It may require some uncomfortable conversations, but if we ask people to tackle social injustices in the world around us, we need to roll up our sleeves and tackle these injustices in our own house as well.

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