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While Analysis of Policies, Practices, & Programs Reveals Factors in Successful DEI Advancement, Opportunities Remain to Institutionalize Practices & Address Equity

CHICAGO, IL – A scan of philanthropy commissioned by the D5 Coalition has revealed emerging trends within the sector to successfully advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The comprehensive scan, which reviewed written and web-based resources from philanthropy, as well as the fields of organizational effectiveness and social justice, identified five key elements—the “5 Ms”—critical to advancing DEI: Mobilizers, Missions, Money, Moments and Movements. A copy of the full report is available here.

“Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion is critical to advancing the common good, increasing the effectiveness, and enhancing the impact of philanthropy,” said Kelly Brown, Director of the D5 Coalition. “This analysis provides philanthropic organizations with the recipe to help successfully advance DEI. D5 will continue to be a resource for philanthropies to network and learn how other foundations are successfully advancing DEI and how they can do the same.”

The scan found that while foundations incorporate DEI in a wide range of ways, the 5 Ms frequently stimulate change:

Mobilizers – When a motivated board or staff member, or grantee speaks up and is heard, change happens. A person’s life experiences or diverse background could bring new perspectives to the table and could lead to change.
Missions – When DEI is tied to the mission of a foundation, that foundation is more likely to work to advance DEI.
Money – The changing demographics of communities encourages community foundations to diversify their donor base, while corporate foundations are leaders in personnel diversification because they understand that more diverse people bring in more diverse markets.
Moments – Certain moments can prompt foundations to imagine how DEI impacts and improves its work. Moments can be fueled by crises, such as hate crimes that receive national attention or a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina. When moments arise, philanthropies work to build coalitions to engage their collective funds and lift their collective voice on behalf of a given issue.
Movements – Unlike moments, movements are about sustained, organized case-making and action. For example, the civil rights movement framed issues and offered action steps for achieving civil rights. Many portfolios are now designed to advance civil rights because of the momentum of the movement.

The report offers specific action steps that individual foundations can take to capitalize on these opportunities for advancing DEI.

“These elements help foundations get the ball rolling,” said Paula Dressel of JustPartners, Inc., which produced the scan. “Once DEI work begins, what counts next are leadership, a shared language, openness to self-reflection and learning, and ways to anchor the commitment in everyday work.”

The scan also found areas for improvement within the sector, including institutionalizing practices to advance DEI and developing better data collection systems to drive equity. The scan identified examples of foundations introducing particular practices, but policies that would institutionalize such practices were less common. This threatens to undermine progress, especially when foundations experience staff turnover.

“The good news is that there are abundant ‘on-ramps’ and resources for foundations to better advance DEI,” said Dressel. “The trends toward advancing DEI are encouraging, but philanthropies now need to act to sustain it. This includes institutionalizing practices, or ‘hard-wiring’ a commitment to DEI.”

The scan also revealed that the field continues to struggle with addressing equity—or creating equal opportunities for everyone a foundation serves. How much equity-focused investments actually close gaps in opportunity and well-being remains unclear because few foundations track or publicize this data. The lack of such information limits philanthropy’s ability to make a stronger business case for DEI.

“Establishing a better field-wide system to gather data about DEI remains a key goal of the D5 Coalition,” said Brown. “We’re piloting new systems now. But at the end of the day, they will only work if foundations are more transparent about who’s making decisions about where philanthropic dollars go and whether those resources are reaching those in greatest need.”

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