The Unread Article
I write a lot of articles for various publications and here on LinkedIn as well. Some are popular and go viral and some have several thousand-people read them, some a great deal more than that. What’s neat is you can get a count and a sense on LinkedIn of who is reading and liking and sharing your articles. One type of article I can write that I can guarantee you will be read by very few people is one about diversity in nonprofits and nonprofit fundraising. It’s literally the kiss of death for an article.
It’s been a passion of mine to point out the overwhelmingly lack of diversity in the nonprofit world. 90% of nonprofit Board of Directors are Caucasian people and 87% of Executive Directors are Caucasian. Few people talk about staff ratios and even fewer talk about donor diversity. I have written two articles, one published in Currents on Latino Major giving about both were read by under 300 people, overwhelmingly Latina’s and Latino’s. I have one article that has been read over 24,000 times to give you some perspective and context. I am not complaining, nor is this sour grapes or bragging. But it’s a crude survey of people’s interest and avoidance of the subject.
The question is how we get everyone to understand the issues and crisis of the stunning lack of diversity in the nonprofit world? The nation is dramatically changing demographically. Almost 20% of the national population is Latino for example. In many states, it's much larger than that. In many Southern states, the African American population is in the 30% area. You can look at nonprofits, in Florida, Texas, and California that have Board’s that are 100% Caucasian! All three places have large Latino/ an African American and Asian populations and wealth.
Yet the nonprofit world remains the world of white people. I would guess that most nonprofit people are fairly progressive, interested in equity, fairness etc. Yet they sure don’t want to read about it in our own industry. Let’s not forget that many of these nonprofit leaders are people working in multi-racial communities, serving them. Many are actually working on social justice issues. Yet they commonly don’t look like their communities nor do they fundraise from the whole community. They fundraise from one demographic only. They are led by one demographic and their senior staff are overwhelmingly one demographic.
When we think of equity and diversity very rarely do we talk about it at all levels? At the Staff, Board and Donor levels. Yet in my experience, all of these issues are not that difficult to overcome. Let me say that again. Poor diversity is not that difficult to overcome.
Firstly, as an industry, we need to stop running from this issue. I don’t know how else to describe it. I was called by a major publication to write an article. And usual they asked me for ideas. I suggested an article similar to the one I am writing now. The Editor’s response was that people in our industry “know this and feel like they cannot change the way it is, people are frustrated”. So, she asked me for something else. This is not the nonprofit industry I know. Where we dodge hard issues?
What have we learned about building diversity in private industry? What’s relevant to our nonprofit industry? I have learned that having a diverse board, staff and donor base requires intentionality above all. That you need to see the problem, focus on it and fix it. If you remember one thing from this article that’s the word: Intentionality. Does your organization work to approach Latino donors? Do you research the most influential, successful African American’s in your community for Board consideration? If not, then you don’t have intentionality.
Let’s talk about real and comprehensive nonprofit diversity. That our organization is truly part of our community. Looks like our community because it is. That we have diverse Staff, Board, and Donors. Search diversity consultants. You will see a few folks who will lecture you about the issue and tell you that you have a problem. Some will help you hire a more diverse staff. Very few will help you diversify your Board and nobody will talk to you about diversifying your donors.
So, I am actually launching a new line in my consulting practice to advise nonprofits and actually do this for them. A sort of one-stop shop.
What’s important to understand is you can’t have one without the other. If you don’t have a diverse staff, it’s harder to have a diverse Board and donors. If your Board is all from one demographic, it will be much harder to expect donors from another demographic. The three affect each other. You need to have the Staff and Board and then intelligently, with integrity approach the donors.
I personally talk the most about the Latino community because that’s my base and experience but diversity for me encompasses all ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations in your community. Just want to say that.
Most nonprofit leaders care about diversity but they aren’t moved to action because they feel like they are doing fine without the hassle, the work, potential controversy. Etc. It’s not a burning problem because they are inside the problem. It should be.
So, for example, if you’re a children’s welfare organization in Los Angeles, New York or Chicago and you don’t have any Latina/o Board Member, Staff or Donors then you are financially ignoring a huge revenue source. Its literally like walking past a pile of money that’s yours for the asking. If you had a Latina on your Board, you might learn that Latina’s give more per capita to Children’s Charities than their Caucasian friends and neighbors. No Really. Your Latina/o staff and Board could design messaging that was culturally informed that would engage mass donors and Major Donors. They would know the right way to approach a 30 something Latina Lawyer whose parents are from Mexico, or a Venture Capitalist who is the third generation Puerto Rican in NY. They would understand that you don’t have an Argentine write the Spanish for an appeal to mostly Mexican Americans.
The second major reason diversity isn’t just a feel-good luxury is that most organizations are working in or for their community. The community isn’t one color. How can you serve a community, be part of it if you’re out of touch with a large part of that community? You may scoff and say “we are in touch” but how do you know? Every community has so much complexity that you really have to intentionally study the racial and economic demographics of a community and then intentionally research and recruit around that solid information. Too many Boards are recruited by people other Board members already know, friends of friends. None of this is done will bad intentions. It just sort of happens that way. It’s not planned or thought out when it should be.
Let’s also say something about tokens. You don’t need them. In almost every community there is a diversity of people who have wealth, influence, connections and power. You just have to look. Chances are you current Board will be unaware of them because that’s not their circle. Thus, the intentionality. Please don’t have a person on your board only because of the color of their skin.
I could go into much more detail about recruiting, donor bases and Board composition but I think I have already gone too long. All I am asking for is two things.
That we as nonprofit leaders say “Yes, we must fix this, and it can’t wait”. That we will do this because we want to be more effective in our mission, program, and fundraising.
Finally, that we study the methods and intentionality of making this happen. That just wishing it would change isn’t enough.
If you're interested in hearing more about this new line of consulting I am launching, go to my website page on this at: http://www.armandozumaya.com/diversity-consulting-services.html
Thanks for actually reading this article and I hope this helps start a conversation in your organization!