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How Diverse Organizations Differ: Insights from The Philanthropy Framework Self-Assessment Tool

May 25, 2021 - By Renee Karibi-Whyte

Philanthropy’s increased focus on listening to communities, inclusivity, and distributed leadership, alongside the racial reckoning in the United States and beyond in the year since George Floyd’s murder, have resulted in many philanthropic organizations increasing diversity within their leadership. Other donors realize the importance of having many different types of voices in leadership, but have not yet achieved the desired balance. Still others don’t have internal agreement on the importance of diverse leadership, or believe that diversity has no bearing on their goals or mission.

Those not yet sure about prioritizing diversity may wonder what impact diversity could make on their philanthropy, or how their organization might function differently if it had more diverse leadership. New data revealed through a tool from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors provides a partial answer to this question, through the lens of RPA’s Philanthropy Framework, which was created as part of the Theory of the Foundation initiative.

About the Self-Assessment Tool and Analysis

This tool, Understanding Your Philanthropy Framework Assessment, is in the form of an online questionnaire. Once taken, it provides philanthropic leaders with an assessment of their social compact, charter, and operating model. Together, these three elements form an organization’s Philanthropy Framework, which is helpful for analyzing how a philanthropy makes decisions, interacts with others and the broader society, and utilizes its capabilities and resources. Understanding their framework can help philanthropies better allocate financial and non-financial resources to maximize impact and drive internal alignment, among other benefits.

Before taking a look at the insights, it is important to note that while nearly 300 people in the global philanthropic sector have completed the online self-assessment, these findings don’t necessarily reveal a scientific correlation between diverse leadership and the highlighted statistics. Because the self-assessment is open to anyone who wants to fill it out, the data pulled as of May 2021 may not comprise a representative sample of philanthropy. Nonetheless, the differences revealed between homogenous and diverse organizations based on the tool provide interesting, informative, and potentially significant insights.

The question against which the data was evaluated asked, “When looking at your organization’s board and leadership, which answer below best represents the diverse ethnic, racial, financial, experiential backgrounds?”, to which potential responses were:

  • Option 1: Mostly homogeneous; we largely are the same ethnic group and have similar educational and financial backgrounds.
  • Option 2: While most of us come from similar economic and ethnic backgrounds, we have some representation from either communities served or traditionally less represented communities.
  • Option 3: We are very intentional about ensuring diverse leadership and have been successful in creating an organization with diverse points of view in our leadership.

The comparisons noted below are between organizations that selected option 1 (“homogenous organizations” for purposes of this comparison) and option 3 (“diverse organizations”). This analysis does not include those in the middle ground.

Philanthropic organizations that are intentionally diverse are more likely to:

  • Be an independent foundation (41% vs. 18% family philanthropy, 12% corporate) and get a majority of their budget from fundraising (29% for diverse organizations vs. 9% for homogenous organizations).
  • Have clearly expressed, written rules relating to their charter (71% of diverse organizations vs. 50% of homogenous organizations).
  • Consider themselves accountable to values/principles (27%) and geographies/communities served (25%) (compared to grantees (19%) and values/principles (18%) for more homogeneous organizations)
  • Derive legitimacy from communities/populations served (36% vs. 18% for homogenous organizations).
  • Take a responsive rather than proactive approach, supporting goals and initiatives defined by field/community leaders (28%  as compared with 11% of homogenous organizations).
  • Lean toward a flexible approach in implementing strategies (78%) over a more rigid approach (22%).
  • Frequently or mostly include grantee, community, or lower-level staff input in major decisions (47% vs. 22% for homogenous organizations).

The more homogenous leadership is, the more likely a philanthropic organization is to:

  • Be a family philanthropy (58%, compared to 18% independent foundations and 9% corporate-related).
  • Be an endowed foundation (59% vs. 41% not endowed).
  • Have a living founder that sets the mission, priorities, allocations, and engagements (42% vs. 35% for diverse organizations).
  • Consider themselves accountable to the founder (12% vs. 4% for diverse organizations).
  • Derive legitimacy from the founder’s legacy or reputation (22% vs. 2% for diverse organizations).
  • Fund only projects outside the scope of government or private sectors (50% of homogenous vs. 17% of diverse organizations).
  • See itself as a creator of solutions, designing its own goals and initiatives, vs. taking a more responsive approach (28% as compared to 17% for diverse organizations).
  • Approach relationships in a networked vs. independent manner (81%).
  • Not consider the impact on marginalized communities as a primary program objective (41% of homogenous vs. 0% of diverse organizations).
  • Have numerous known disagreements (22%) or have had few discussions (19%) on goals with respect to impact on marginalized communities (vs. 0% respectively, for diverse organizations).
  • Never or rarely include grantee, community, or lower-level staff input in major decisions (39% vs. 12% for diverse organizations).
  • Not have addressed diversity, equity, and inclusion issues even though there is a recognition of their importance (46% vs. 0% for diverse organizations).

These findings represent a point-in-time view of just one aspect of the information generated from the self-assessment responses to date, and we will provide additional information over the coming months.

More About the Understanding Your Philanthropy Framework Self-Assessment Tool

On an individual organization level, this resource can help philanthropies get a better understanding of how their internal elements and processes align with external impact. Specifically, it provides feedback based on responses on how an organization:

  • approaches its legacy, governance, and decision-making;
  • views and expresses its role in society; and
  • chooses to marshal and operationalize resources.
You can learn more and access the tool here.
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