In this article, Sharon Bush, Co-chair of Chicago African Americans in Philanthropy, talks about the importance of African-American leadership in philanthropy.
There is a lot of discussion about the importance of diversity and countless efforts to increase it in workplaces and boardrooms. The same is true for philanthropy. Some efforts have worked. Foundations have done a good job of diversifying administrative, entry-level and midmanagement positions.
But seldom do these efforts result in the advancement of people of color into leadership positions. This is particularly true for African-Americans in philanthropy.
According to data compiled by the Council on Foundations, only 4 percent of foundation CEOs nationwide are African-American and 7 percent of foundation trustees are African-American. These data are taken from a survey of less than 1 percent of U.S. foundations.
Nationwide, the number of African-American chief executives has remained stagnant. At best, the number of African-Americans leading Chicago-area foundations reflects national data on diversity in philanthropy.
In Chicago, where 33 percent of the population is African-American, the fear is that we may be losing ground. With the rapidly changing demographics of the population, diversity is no longer a moral imperative but critical to community and economic sustainability. Philanthropy must include African-American voices in order to effectively respond to the needs of our communities. This means having African-Americans in decision-making positions and promoting diversity at all levels of organizations. In this regard, there is still much work to do.
We can turn this around with policies, action and reflection. Diversity initiatives need to be supported by policies. Foundation boards should purposefully build diverse candidate pools for executive and trustee positions. Executive search committees should include African-American representation. Foundation executives should systematically mentor promising African-American staff to prepare them to compete for leadership positions. When the opportunity arises to hire qualified individuals, take it.
INCLUSION ENSURES EFFECTIVENESS
A common refrain is, “We can’t find qualified people.” If foundation boards take the time to fully implement policies and practices, there will be opportunities to hire well-qualified African-American leaders.
Last, foundations should continuously assess whether policies and practices are effective. Conduct internal assessments of what works for individual organizations. And support and participate in the efforts of industry associations to collect diversity and grantmaking data. This is important work that monitors whether philanthropy succeeds at increasing diversity and making effective investments in diverse communities. We cannot get to the finish line if we do not know how far we have to travel to get there.
Systematic use of policies, action and reflection make it far more likely that philanthropy will produce leaders who reflect the communities receiving the investment.
We need African-American leaders in philanthropy who can provide valuable input on investments in African-American communities and beyond. The inclusion of these leaders will lead to more creative, effective and responsive grantmaking. The benefit of this work is a stronger, more prosperous Chicago for all.
This article was originally posted here.