Orson Aguilar, executive director, and Bruce Mirken, media relations coordinator, of the Greenlining Institute (www.greenlining.org):
On Stanford University’s Web site, university President John Hennessy declares, “We believe that the richness of our backgrounds, cultures, talents, and interests has made Stanford University one of the world’s leading research and teaching institutions.”
Like most great institutions, Stanford understands that talent, expertise, and drive don’t come in just one size or color, and that an educational community is stronger when it can draw on the endless variety of backgrounds, cultures, and experiences that make up our diverse nation. And Stanford understands that such a diverse environment doesn’t just spring into being spontaneously, which is why Hennessy proudly points to his university’s “wide range of offices, services, policies, and programs that help us attract and retain faculty, students, and staff who bring a multiplicity of experiences, perspectives, and interests.”
The Greenlining Institute heartily agrees. And while a few, like Peter Wood, seem to quake in fear that even small glimmers of diversity will destroy nonprofit fundraising, the smartest and most successful institutions long ago recognized diversity as an asset.
Stanford’s genuine enthusiasm for diversity seems to have only strengthened the university’s fundraising—to the point where in 2008 it was able to completely eliminate tuition for students whose families make less than $100,000 per year. The lesson Stanford has learned, but that some have yet to grasp, is that funders large and small don’t run from diversity. Increasingly, they embrace it as a positive value that can only strengthen the institutions they support.
This awareness isn’t just limited to higher education or nonprofits. Businesses across the U.S., recognizing America’s changing demographics, are realizing they can far more effectively market to consumers of different backgrounds if those backgrounds are part of their corporate culture, represented both within a given company and in its network of business contacts and suppliers.
AT&T, for example, proudly points to its programs to purchase goods and services from diverse suppliers, highlighting having “spent more than $50-billion with minority, women, and disabled veteran businesses.” The company even posts statistics on the racial and ethnic diversity of its workforce, stating, “AT&T’s diversity and inclusion strategy aligns with our business goals and leadership priorities in key areas.” Simply put, diversity is good for business.
Of course, the business and nonprofit worlds don’t exist in separate silos. Businesses—including AT&T, whose foundation is a major funder of higher education and many other nonprofit enterprises—are a major source of support for nonprofits.
All of this makes Woods’ recent screed all the more puzzling. He insists that Greenlining is out to “undermine the guiding spirit of philanthropy” by creating a situation in which “someone else—someone other than the donor—gets to decide what causes are worthy to support.”
What heinous plot provoked these visions of commissars issuing orders to donors designating what causes they can support? A bill that we supported in the California legislature, A.B. 624, would have required the state’s largest tax-exempt foundations—those with assets over $250-million—to report some basic data on the diversity of their boards, staffs and grant recipients. The bill contained no quotas of any kind, and indeed no mandates to do anything other than report a bit of data.
We supported the legislation because our own research, as well as that done by other organizations, found that in a nation where people of color are projected to be the majority by 2050 (something that has been the case in California for a decade), minority-led nonprofits were receiving a startlingly small percentage of foundation grants. And when we looked at the leadership of the 46 largest U.S. foundations, over one-third had zero African-Americans on their boards, well over half had zero Latinos, and nearly 70 percent had zero Asian-Americans.
Because they are exempt from federal (and usually state) income taxes, charitable foundations receive a massive subsidy from taxpayers—in the neighborhood of $50-billion per year, according to one estimate. We thought it might be nice for those taxpayers to have a bit more information about where their subsidies are going—or not going. We still do.
Diversity cannot be ignored or escaped—and shouldn’t be, because it’s not a threat. Those that embrace diversity will profit and succeed, while those that run from it will do so at their own peril. And that peril won’t come from government or Greenlining, but from donors who will increasingly ask nonprofits to demonstrate how they are tackling the challenge of working in an increasingly diverse society. Those with strong diversity plans are likely to be rewarded in an increasingly competitive fundraising landscape.