ASK THE CENTER: We’re a Family: How Can We Be Diverse? (May 2012 FGN)


Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on the Minnesota Council on Foundations’ Philanthropy Potluck Blog, and is used with MCOF’s permission.

During discussions of diversity in philanthropy, family grantmakers sometimes get frustrated. Their thoughts may immediately turn to: “Our board members are family, how can we be diverse?”

No matter your family’s DNA or your foundation’s charter, it is possible (and desirable) to diversify the demographic make-up of your governance structure. But beyond that, your family foundation can embrace diversity and inclusion in virtually all other areas of your work, too.

During the recent National Center for Family Philanthropy (NCFP) teleconference entitled “Diverse Voices in Family Giving,” panelists shared some excellent, first-hand examples of diversity in action. Judy Belk, senior vice president at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, moderated the discussion with:

Diversity Within and Beyond the Family

Families grow and change not only with births, but also with marriages. When Kimberly Myers married into the Hewlett family, she joined an already diverse Flora Family Foundation board. The Flora’s may have started out looking like a typical White family, said Myers, but when family members brought their partners into the board room, culturally rich international and multi-racial perspectives were brought to the table.

But even if family members don’t become more diverse, foundation boards can deliberately choose to add non-family voices to the governance mix. Vic De Luca described how the daughters and granddaughters of the founder of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation deliberately expanded the board in the mid-1980s. The goal was not so much about increasing racial and ethnic diversity but about including varied viewpoints and life experiences.

Of 16 people on the board, nine are non-family. DeLuca described how the board composition has created an increasingly rich operation that works well with the grantee community.

Said De Luca, “Broadening our board has not changed our DNA. You can still maintain that sense of family – just expand your definition.”  It’s about, he added, expanding your knowledge to be better grantmakers.

Embracing Diversity Not Just about Demographics
De Luca provided ample evidence of how changing board perspectives – and other intentional actions – led to tangible changes in the composition of the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation grantees (see graphic).

He commented on how inclusion is infused in everything the foundation board and staff does – their language, practices, advocacy and more. Here is how diversity is explicitly called out in the organization’s strategic plan:

We seek out organizations led by people of color and/or working in low income communities. We support efforts to develop the leadership skills of, and foster the participation by, low income people and people of color.

(At the Minnesota Council on Foundations, we have articulated that holistic view in our Diversity Framework, which describes how philanthropists can embrace diversity and inclusion in their four primary roles as: grantmakers, employers, business entities and community citizens.)

Resources to Use at Your Own Pace
All the NCFP panel members encouraged family foundations to move at their own pace, following their own values. Deborah Santana encouraged families to be conscious and open, and to make use of the rich array of available resources.

Judy Belk concluded by saying, “The diversity on the road ahead may look like a huge mountain, but don’t feel like it’s insurmountable.”

Here are just a few of many resources to help you begin your journey:

Join the conversation: As a philanthropist, think about your roles as funder, employer, business entity and community citizen.  What one step can you take today to intentionally address diversity, inclusion or equity in your work?


About the Author

Wendy Wehr is vice president of communications and information services at the Minnesota Council on Foundations.

This entry was posted in Boards and Governance, Philanthropy Trends and Research and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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