TOOLS AND TRAINING
When Gary Johnson searches for people to fill open jobs at the Chicago History Museum, he is often discouraged by the pool of applicants. It's not that the job seekers aren't talented, he says, because they are. Or that they don't have relevant experience, because many of them do. But the vast majority of applicants are white, and do not reflect Chicago's ethnic and cultural diversity, says Mr. Johnson, who is president of the museum.
It is a common problem facing charities: Low salaries, vague career paths, poor recruiting efforts, and some charities' lackluster commitment to diversity have kept members of minority groups out of the nonprofit world in droves.
"I don't think there's a deficit of talent," says Sandra Hernández, chief executive of the San Francisco Foundation. "There's a deficit of formal structures to bring people into the field and allow them to see how nonprofit organizations function in communities."
But a handful of foundations are trying to create those structures.
By setting up programs to train minority staff members and help charities recruit employees from diverse backgrounds, a few grant makers are hoping to make charities more reflective of the communities they serve.
While their efforts are reaching only a tiny fraction of nonprofit groups nationwide, they offer a few models for fighting racial disparities in nonprofit hiring.
And grant makers are also focusing on the makeup of their own staffs. The Council on Foundations, in Washington, committed last November to a new effort on diversity and in August hired a director to spearhead it.
Steve Gunderson, the group's president, says that priorities include educating grant makers about the benefits of diversifying both their organizations and the types of charities they support, creating a fellowship for emerging minority nonprofit leaders, and disseminating demographic data about the grant-making field.
According to the council's 2006 survey of grant makers, 94 percent of all foundation chief executives are white, as are nearly 77 percent of all full-time foundation staff members.
Many people say that without a bigger commitment from foundations, efforts to promote diversity among grantees will ring hollow.
"We can't expect this to fall only on the shoulders of our grantees," says Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, in New York. "We have to look at ourselves and make sure we're running our own work forces and boards in ways that are truly representative of our society."
Fellowship programs are one way that foundations are trying to increase minority leadership at charities. Last year, for example, the Chicago Community Trust plowed $1-million into a new fellowship program designed to train minority staff members for senior-level jobs at arts and culture groups.
The model is simple: Fellows rotate among six of the trust's grantees, as well as the trust itself. They spend four-month stints at each organization, where they can specialize in community outreach, fund raising, marketing, and other areas in which they hope to build a career.
During their stay with each organization, they generally focus on a specific project. One fellow is helping the Lincoln Park Zoo raise money for a new pond. Another is finding ways to make a new exhibit at the Chicago History Museum appeal to a diverse audience.
"We're trying to build a pipeline, not of entry into the field, but to take seasoned professionals and give them immersion into a full slate of management experiences so they'll be primed to fill the top-level positions," says Terry Mazany, the trust's president.
The fellowship has been ideal for Safiyah Jackson, one of six fellows picked from among more than 200 applicants. Ms. Jackson, who is black, spent six years in marketing for the Ford Motor Company before realizing that arts and education, not cars, were her passions.
But she was disappointed to learn that her lack of nonprofit experience meant she would have to start at the bottom. What's more, she had trouble simply finding out about job openings, which were often publicized only via word of mouth.
The fellowship, which Ms. Jackson heard about while volunteering at the Chicago Children's Museum, has given her a chance to gain management experience and make contacts.
"The arts and culture world is a very closed network, and the opportunity to meet so many people and make connections was very appealing," she says.
Sandra Aponte had worked for nonprofit groups for several years before she was picked for the fellowship. But she was eager to find out about different kinds of opportunities and to get some experience working alongside senior-level managers.
"At another job, I wouldn't have had the same exposure," says Ms. Aponte, who is Latina.
Another draw for Ms. Aponte has been the career coaching she receives as part of the fellowship. Fellows meet each week with the project manager in charge of the program, and they are also assigned a mentor who works with them during their two-year stay.
Working at Foundations
While the Chicago Community Trust's program is new, the San Francisco Foundation has run a similar effort since 1981. But instead of rotating among grantee organizations, the six fellows, most of whom hold master's degrees, spend their two years with the foundation.
The fellows help manage grants for a particular cause, such as social justice or the environment. They make site visits to grantees, assess strategic plans, make presentations to board members, and help plan their own career by working with fellowship alumni, program managers, and the fellowship's coordinator.
Graduates who have landed at charities say their time at the foundation gave them an unusually comprehensive understanding of the nonprofit world.
"The San Francisco Foundation supports a variety of issue areas, so you're exposed to information and cutting-edge strategies and best practices in all different fields beyond your area of expertise," says Juliet Ellis, a biracial woman who enrolled in the program in 1998 and is now executive director of Urban Habitat, an environmental-justice group in Oakland, Calif. "I also got firsthand experience with our grantees and often think back upon our conversations about organizational development, personnel, programming, and board relations."
The experience can prove critical when it comes to fund raising, she says. "I was way ahead of the curve," says Ms. Ellis. "I must have reviewed hundreds of grant proposals, so it was easy for me to manage the fund-raising responsibilities of this organization."
Since 1990, when the foundation began tracking alumni of the program, 55 percent of its graduates have continued to work at charities or grant-making organizations.
While the fellowship programs are preparing selected candidates for nonprofit leadership positions, a few other foundation programs provide grantees with money and assistance in recruiting and retaining minority staff members.
One such example is the Diversity Initiative, started by four foundations in the Boston metropolitan area in 1990. Charities that receive grants through the program go through a self-assessment of their commitment to diversity. The grant may finance diversity training for staff members, assistance with strategic planning, and efforts to recruit minority employees.
The Joyce Foundation, in Chicago, first focused its efforts on helping local arts and culture organizations attract diverse audiences. But when the foundation conducted evaluations of the program, it found a direct correlation between the success of grantees and the diversity of their employees.
So now the foundation also helps grantees find ways to attract minority staff members. It supports fellowships for arts administrators and artistic staff members at two local theaters.
The Denver Foundation has also made a big push to highlight the issue of diversity. In 2000, it started the Expanding Nonprofit Inclusiveness Initiative with the initial goal of collecting data on diversity among its grantees. Now it conducts workshops for nonprofit groups and has published a workbook designed to help charities embrace diversity.
One of the key lessons, says Lauren Casteel, vice president of philanthropic partnerships at the Denver Foundation, is that charities need to be more mindful of how they reach out to potential job seekers.
"There may be social structures like sororities and fraternities, churches, Chambers of Commerce, where organizations can recruit," she says. "You really have to make a concerted effort to ask yourself how you can best access people as opposed to just placing an advertisement in the paper."
Wielding 'Ultimate Power'
But many people say these foundation efforts aren't nearly enough. They say that foundations need to put more direct pressure on their grantees to make diversity a priority.
"It's one step, but it's not the only step foundations should be taking," says Orson Aguilar, associate director of the Greenlining Institute, a social-justice organization in Berkeley, Calif.
He says that while some foundations already ask their grantees about staff diversity and disclose how much of their grant money goes to charities that are led by people from diverse backgrounds, all should do so.
Legislation proposed this year in California would force grant makers in the state to pay more attention to whether their awards are aiding organizations led by members of minority groups.
In February, Assemblyman Joe Coto, a Democrat who represents East San Jose, introduced a bill requiring California foundations to provide such information in their annual reports and on their Web sites.
The bill is on hold until 2008 to give foundations a chance to come up with alternatives.
Grant makers might also consider cutting off money to a charity if it doesn't demonstrate a commitment to diversity, says Henry Ramos, director of the Diversity in Philanthropy Project. "I think that would be a last resort," he says. "But that's the ultimate power that foundations have."
Part of the problem, meanwhile, is that foundations suffer from the same homogeneity as their grantees.
Recently, some grant makers have begun to focus on how to embrace diversity within their own organizations.
The Diversity in Philanthropy Project, for example, was formed last year to promote a wider dialogue about diversity within the grant-making world. Now 15 foundations give money to the organization, while representatives from about 30 grant makers serve on its board.
The project's goals include gathering foundation leaders to discuss how best to include a diverse range of people in philanthropy, conducting research on the topic as it relates to the philanthropic world, and sharing information about the best ways to promote inclusion.
Mr. Ramos says that efforts to train minority staff members will only go so far until the entire charitable world increases its commitment to diversity.
"While we can create the supply, we also have to have the demand," he says. "We need a much more strategic policy commitment to making that happen. Otherwise we'll end up training a lot of people who are very enthusiastic about getting involved and they won't have anywhere to go."