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For Impact’s Sake: The Need for Transparency on Diversity & Equity in Philanthropy

November 15, 2012

(Kelly Brown is director of the D5 Coalition, a five-year effort to advance philanthropy’s diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. A version of this post originally appeared on the Foundation Center's Transparency Talk blog.)

Kelly_brown_headshotPhilanthropy exists for the common good, and advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion helps us live up to that value. In particular, thinking about equity in our grantmaking helps ensure that we are having the greatest impact on the issues identified in our unique missions -- by targeting resources to the people in our constituencies with the greatest need.

But to really maximize our impact and hold ourselves accountable to our values, our constituencies, and each other, we also have to track who benefits from our grantmaking and be transparent about the results. If we can do that successfully, we can: 1) better understand who we are reaching and who we are missing -- and adjust strategies accordingly; 2) leverage public policy and public dollars to fill gaps or create synergy; and 3) connect our work to the work of other foundations that focus on common issues or constituencies.

As a field, we have a dual problem with both collecting and sharing data on diversity and equity.

Realizing that kind of success, though, is a real challenge. As a field, we have a dual problem with both collecting and sharing data on diversity and equity. Foundations measure internal diversity and the impact of their grantmaking in many different ways -- or not at all. And the foundations that do collect this kind of data share it to varying degrees -- or not at all. These challenges make it difficult to assess the year-over-year progress of individual foundations, or to draw comparisons among foundations or between philanthropy and the public sector.

So what do we do about it? We have to establish a uniform data collection and reporting system and encourage the whole field to use it. We're excited by the renewed energy in the field to take on this challenge -- the Reporting Commitment is a great recent example.

A key goal of D5 is to improve data collection and transparency as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Last month, we helped convene fifteen leaders on this topic in philanthropy and academia to discuss a pilot project to pioneer a collection and reporting system. As this promising work continues -- and expands -- we will be able to share more information about how to participate.

In the meantime, the field also has to do the research to figure out what policies and practices are, in fact, the most effective at fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion. It's hard for us to call on foundations to track and be transparent about diversity and equity when we can't say in the same breath, "And if you aren't happy with where you stand, here are the most effective steps you can take to address it."

To help on that front, D5 just commissioned three organizations to conduct research that will help identify the most effective policies and tools philanthropic leaders can draw on to help drive meaningful change and also lay the groundwork for gathering the data needed to help track the field's progress. For more information about the Insights on Diversity research, check out the press release here.

Being transparent about diversity and equity can be intimidating. But I hope the need for it will increasingly be viewed as a pathway to impact -- not as an onerous task that could result in a scolding if a foundation is behind where it would like to be. This is an opportunity to learn from each other, to find ways to better work together to serve common constituencies, and to better meet the needs of an increasingly diverse world.

-- Kelly Brown

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