Study: Nonprofits Lack Emphasis On Sexual, Gender Diversity

About four out of five nonprofit CEOS say that racial diversity is relevant to their organizations and slightly fewer report that their organizations are least somewhat racially diverse.

Other forms of diversity — such as gender identity and sexual orientation — are viewed as less relevant.

Some 82 percent of nonprofit CEOs believe that racial diversity is relevant to organizational goals and 79 percent said their organizations are at least somewhat racially diverse, but barely half (52 percent) find diversity in sexual orientation relevant to organizational goals, according to “Nonprofit Diversity Efforts.” The new study by The Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP) in Cambridge, Mass., surveyed 205 nonprofit CEOs. Just over half (55 percent) of respondents identified diversity in gender identity as organizationally relevant with 68 percent finding diversity among individuals with disabilities to be important.

These priorities bear out in actual diversity. Just one out of five CEOs (21 percent) reported that their organizations were not at all or not very racially diverse. That figure increased for sexual orientation (26 percent), gender identity (42 percent), and disabilities (59 percent).

Representation for those with disabilities also was identified by CEOs as far and away the area in which nonprofits least reflect the populations they serve (40 percent). Sexual orientation (18 percent), gender identity (15 percent), and race (15 percent) ranked far behind in terms of not reflecting populations served.

The report also illustrated CEOs prioritization of diversity among various populations and corresponding results. More than four out of five CEOs (81 percent) seek demographic information on populations served, a percentage that decreases slightly for board members (77 percent), staff (75 percent), and senior leadership (73 percent).

In terms of prioritizing diversity among various roles, 70 percent of CEOs stated that it was important to have staff diversity, prioritization that decreased for board members (64 percent) and senior leadership (60 percent). The emphases were directly correlated with actual diversity. Slightly more than a third of CEOs (36 percent) reported that their staffs were actually diverse as compared to 22 percent of boards and 17 percent of senior leadership.

Foundation funders are offered in the report as a potential driver of diversity. Foundation support of organizational diversity is important as foundations can fund additional HR staff and professional development opportunities, convene trainings with equity focuses, help identify and invest diverse pipelines, and form networks, according to the study, citing a 2018 Georgetown University report.

Two out of five respondents (42 percent) reported no interaction with foundation funders around organizational diversity objectives, however, and just 17 percent stated that foundations are very or extremely involved in organizational diversity. Interest from foundations tends to lean toward diversity among populations served (88 percent), with boards (63 percent), staff (53 percent), and senior leadership (44 percent) lagging behind.

Across populations, foundations’ focuses lean overwhelming toward race and ethnicity as opposed to other types of diversity. Ellie Buteau, CEP’s vice president, research and leader of the report expressed hope that the report can improve foundations’ engagement in diversity.

“Since much of the talk among foundations about diversity focuses on grantees, it’s vital to capture and lift up the voices of nonprofit leaders to ensure their needs and perspectives on their diversity efforts are heard and understood,” said Buteau in a news release announcing the findings. “We hope that this report can be a useful resource for foundation leaders and staff as they consider how they can most helpfully engage with their grantees on the topic of diversity.”