Trusts and foundations have a diversity deficit –

which is an individual and collective failure.  If you have any doubt about this, the next time you go to a meeting or conference for trusts and foundations look around and ask yourself “Is this what the acceptable face of White Supremacy looks like?”

There is no external pressure for trusts and foundations to become more diverse. Few of us have shareholders or external stakeholders to be a source of influence for change and the organisations and communities we seek to support are unlikely to risk biting the hand that might feed them.   Yet trusts and foundations may be activist shareholders with their own investments – expecting higher ethical standards of the people who manage their money.

There is no competitive advantage for most (non-fundraising) trusts and foundations to become more diverse and inclusive.  We have no donors, shareholders, customers who can take their business elsewhere, etc. But we should ask ourselves – what would a responsible investor make of us as and the ethics we practice.

But there is a reputational risk – for individual foundations and for the foundation sector as a whole. Could lack of diversity (race, ethnicity, gender, class, age, etc) be the trust and foundation sector’s “unscrupulous fundraising” PR disaster waiting to happen?

Trusts and foundations risk valuing precedent more than principles – particularly when it comes to things like trustee recruitment – ie ‘we should employ people who’ll fit in’ (precedent) rather than ‘we should employ the right people for the tasks’ (principle)

The 4 reasons for trusts and foundations to make diversity, equity and inclusion real:

  1. we can better understand the needs and capabilities of the communities we are trying to reach if we reflect those communities at all levels;
  2. different perspectives are more likely to generate new ideas and innovation – helping us to deliver our mission more efficiently and effectively;
  3. ensuring diversity and inclusion is part of our commitment to social justice;
  4. to help promote public trust in the voluntary and community sector generally.

[For an updated version of the above list – please see this post:  ‘What’s the Point of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?‘]

Thinking about recently revealed failures – much of what needs to improve in the not for profit sector (as in all sectors and institutions) is about power: the inequitable distribution of it and the misuse of it.  Misuse through action (eg the abuse of those with less power) or inaction (eg enabling abuse by others or in order to preserve one’s own power).  Diversity, safeguarding, impact – all would benefit from an audit of where the power is and where it should be.

The first step in making Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) real is that we should all take stock of our (individual and organisational) values and our trust’s mission.  The first action that trust staff and trustees should take is to ask ourselves ‘where do I stand on this?’  The second action is for us to ask ourselves ‘what opportunities do I have to make a change and shift the power?’

It starts with a personal action plan (‘What am I going to do to promote equity and inclusion?’). Then an organisational action plan (‘How will I influence or lead my organisation so that it understands diversity and promotes equity and inclusion?’). Then a collaborative action plan (‘How do I use the networks that I and my organisation are part of, or that we should join or create, to promote equity and inclusion more broadly?’).  The key word in all of these is ‘I’.

What’s our ‘Theory of Change’ to increase diversity, inclusion and equity?  We should start by measuring the size of the deficit and then setting indicators and targets for change.

What’s the right verb? To *what* diversity?  Promote it?  Enact it?  First we should probably learn to recognise it – or its lack – in our staffing, our grantmaking and our investment strategies.

One immediate action that all trusts and foundations can take on DEI is about recruitment.  Most trusts and foundations will be about to set their budgets for next year. All should add a separate budget line to meet the cost of DEI training and development for their board and staff as a start.  And the budget for any planned recruitment should take into account the additional cost of not using a “colour-blind” or one-size-fits-all approach.

When you’ve thought about tackling diversity in staffing, do any of these sound familiar:

  •  It’s hard and I’m frightened of giving offense;
  •  We’re a family trust so it doesn’t apply to us;
  •  We tried and no-one applied;
  •  I don’t know where to start;
  •  We’re sorted. We have an Equal Opps statement on our website;
  •  We have a woman/non-white person/someone under 40 on our board (delete where applicable);

They’re certainly familiar to me.   Some of those are understandable; none are satisfactory; all are solvable – with effort and resolve.  Your effort and resolve as a foundation leader – and mine too.

DEI-based recruitment (particularly for trustees and senior staff) should give greater weight to other attributes in preference to traditional concepts of “qualifications” (or “experience”) – including lived experience and potential.  A new recruitment approach – backed up by properly funded training and development plans – is necessary. Put another way – we should not confuse the “signs of privilege with signs of capacity”. That goes for grant applications too.

We should also redefine boards as multi-disciplinary teams to change the default mindset that trusteeship is a single thing that requires one set of attributes.

Diversity is about difference – recognising it, valuing it, incorporating it and being changed by it (not assimilating it and neutralising it).  We should be the Federation – not the Borg.

We need some humility in the development of DEI standards for our sector.  Our job is to fund it, participate in it, implement it, fund the evaluation of it and explain how we are changing as a result of it.

But some things trusts and foundations – individually and collectively – and their senior managers can do now to increase diversity and deliver inclusion:

  1. Chief Exec 1% Challenge:  all current Chief Execs and senior managers earning £50k or more should personally donate £500 to a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Program (which should be coordinated by the Association of Charitable Foundations and overseen by a diverse steering group) with individual foundations topping up as necessary.
  2. The first thing it should do is to commission 3 law firms (charity and employment specialists) to give a consensus opinion on exactly how widely and radically we can use positive action.
  3. Senior appointments in Trusts and Foundations are currently secure “dead men’s shoes” roles.  In future, senior appointments (Director/CEO, etc) should be on a fixed term basis (eg 5 years) to ensure there is sufficient churn to enable people who aren’t old white blokes to get the opportunity to move into senior roles.
  4. Don’t take a trustee role if you’re male, middle aged and white – and you look like most of the board you’d be joining. Find a different way to volunteer or contribute – just not in a leadership/governance role.
  5. If you’re a male leader of a trust or foundation you should refuse to sit on any men only panels.  If you’re a white leader of a trust or foundation you should refuse to sit on any white people only panels.  If you’re offered the excuse “there’s no one qualified” you should challenge it and find someone who is to take your place.
  6. Those currently in senior positions may not be able to afford to “make way” for people from under-represented groups.  But they can do more to create other opportunities – eg mentoring (in their own time) the next generation of diverse leaders.  If every one of us “majority community” leaders of trusts and foundations mentored someone from a “minority community” – imagine how much they’d learn.  The ‘majority community’ leaders I mean.

Talking about Diversity feels “popular” right now.  But we are not what we say – we’re what we do.  As Verna Myers says – we have to move from well meaning to well doing.  And as Doctor King said – good will without action can be worse than ill will because it impedes actual progress.


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