After my recent post on how communities can build a culture of philanthropy, a lot of people asked me how communities can best build a culture of philanthropy that is inclusive and diverse. This is an important and difficult topic to address. Philanthropy and social impact participation must be diverse to ensure that we are addressing the most important social problems in the most effective and culturally relevant ways.
But if you look at the top givers in the United States, they are predominantly in the same demographic (white and male), and many people I hear from say that even in their local communities, it’s always the usual suspects who are giving and participating. A recent Atlantic article explored whether philanthropy today has become fundamentally undemocratic.
So how can we bring a diverse set of philanthropists to the table? And, how can we foster a culture of diverse philanthropy to ensure that the funders of tomorrow include not just the funders of today? From research and experience, I would argue that it’s about creating authentic access points and options that make getting involved less daunting, specifically:
Knowing is half the battle. Even before beginning to think about what to do, it’s important to understand the baseline of diversity and participation. A recent article discussed how monumental it was when Silicon Valley released its diversity numbers for technology employers—and even though the results were far from ideal, it paved the way for candid, transparent conversations on how best to approach the issue. This same article appealed to the philanthropy community to also measure and release diversity results. To ensure that we achieve diversity in philanthropy, it is imperative that we first measure who is giving and who is participating; the Rockefeller Foundation, for example, has made this an imperative and publishes results of its own internal diversity. When it comes to boards, it’s often hard to tackle this issue without creating space for self-reflection and evaluation. Annual (or even more frequent) review of a board matrix (example here) that focuses on diversity can open the conversation. This baseline can then allow the board to create a plan for how to recruit more diverse candidates, and the board matrix is something that can also help track progress on diversity over time.
Opportunities for the young and young at heart. Diversity can mean a lot of different things, but one lens is certainly age. Millennials are prioritizing giving back, maybe even more so than Generation X, but they are doing it in their own way. Young people are increasingly interested in giving online, but they also want experiences that are, as they would say it, IRL (in real life). There are several start-ups dedicated to increasing online giving among Millennials—one great example is Charitweet, which allows users to give via Twitter so that giving commitments go viral. This is similar to what we saw with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge (which raised $21.7 million at last count). Parallel to this, organizations like DoSomething.org target young people who want to get out into the field and roll up their sleeves. Anyone can sign up at DoSomething.org online and download everything they need to start a project in their own community. Some communities are even working to add philanthropy to the school curriculum; the national curriculum model Learning to Give provides free resources that anyone can use.
The young at heart are also often eager to give back, but many seniors don’t know how to get started or aren’t even asked. Research shows that volunteerism can help individuals feel less lonely and more valued, and can reduce depression. There are a number of online resources for seniors to find ways to get involved that even address mobility concerns. The most important thing is to reach out and ask. Seniors can offer a wealth of talent and time, and often have financial resources they want to use to make an impact in their lifetimes. One specific idea is to do an information session or a “meet and greet” with your local American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
Birds of a feather flock together. Research shows that we are more likely to trust and like people more who are similar to us. In this vein, giving affinity groups work. Women’s giving groups are popular in many communities—and here in Nevada, we have Nevada Women’s Philanthropy, which has grown to about 80 members and has funded more than $2.9 million in grants since 2005. In San Francisco, the Latino Community Foundation focuses on inspiring a culture of philanthropy within the Latino community and on transforming Latino communities in need. In Washington DC, the Black Benefactors created a giving circle focused on addressing societal ills facing the African American community in their region; it also encourages philanthropy, volunteerism, and participation in the community.
Ultimately, although individuals naturally form affinities with those who are similar to them, it’s important to find a way to bring everyone to the same table so that the solutions for the community take into account all voices, needs, and abilities. This requires not only in a collective vision, but also in collective participation. As Hillary Clinton said, “What we have to do is find a way to celebrate our differences without fracturing our communities.”