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Diversity in Philanthropy: The Research Perspective

October 05, 2007

Larry McGill, senior vice president of research at the Foundation Center, writes:

What happens when you put fifteen researchers and fifteen grantmakers in a room together for a day and a half and ask them to talk about the state of research on diversity in philanthropy? Well, we found out, September 27 and 28, when just such a group was convened at the beautiful Penrose House conference facility at the El Pomar Foundation in Colorado Springs.

The Council on Foundations, ARNOVA, and the Foundation Center joined forces to organize the first in what we hope will become a series of annual forums to bring the worlds of grantmaking and academic research into closer dialogue with each other. Imagine, research that might actually help to inform practice!

Through a series of guided discussions in large and small group settings, we emerged from the meeting with a tentative consensus on a research agenda for moving the field forward on questions related to diversity in philanthropy and some suggestions for undertaking specific research projects. The biggest question begging for an answer is how diversity (or inclusiveness) at the board and staff levels in foundations leads to more effective grantmaking. Can a research strategy be designed that would begin to answer this question? How extensive and potentially costly would such a program of research be?

Other questions raised at this meeting: How does organizational culture and organizational leadership contribute to or inhibit the diversification of boards, staffs, and decision-making practices at different foundations? What determines whether foundations are successful or unsuccessful at retaining staff members of color? What do we actually know about the people who govern the activities of foundations -- where do board members come from, what kinds of diversity do they represent, and how do they make decisions?

So what happens when you put fifteen researchers and fifteen grantmakers in a room together for a day and a half? From what I saw at this meeting, you get high-energy conversation; a willingness, even an eagerness, to work together to solve problems; and a sense of emerging communal responsibility for carrying the discussion forward beyond the meeting.

Let’s keep talking.

-- posted by editor

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