Examining Demographics, Changing Our Status Quo

John Palfrey, President, MacArthur Foundation

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Last year, MacArthur launched a demographic survey of our U.S.-based grantees and impact investees to better understand how our grantmaking and impact investments align with our values. Today, we are sharing the results and some initials next steps based on the findings.

Our Just Imperative calls on us to interrogate our decisions and actions to ensure that they enhance the conditions in which justice can thrive. Understanding the demographics of the organizations we support and their reach is critical information that will help us develop strategies that better support diversity, equity, and inclusion with our grantmaking and impact investing.

Survey Results

Nearly 700 U.S.-based grantees and impact investees were invited to participate in the survey, and 58 percent responded. The results establish a baseline from which we will measure trends over time.

What Keecha Harris and Associates — the firm we worked with to conduct the survey and analyze the results — found will not surprise most people who are attuned to philanthropy’s trends. For example, the organizations we support are majority White at all staff and leadership levels. The survey found that the boards of organizations we support are majority male/men while the staffs are majority female/women.

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In addition, we found that grantee and impact investee data collection on the LGBTQ+ community and disability is less common and less standardized than data collection on sex/gender and race/ethnicity. The report includes results by grantmaking program, as well as information about the data that our partners collect on the communities they engage in their work and the data collection challenges they face.

Our findings reflect the nonprofit sector. For example, last year, the Center for Effective Philanthropy found that 75 percent of U.S.-based nonprofit executive directors in its dataset identify as White and 9 percent identify as African-American or Black. Our survey showed a strikingly similar finding: 75 percent of the heads of organizations that MacArthur funds identify as White and 10 percent identify as African-American or Black.

However, simply comparing MacArthur to our peers side-steps an important conversation about whether our grantmaking is upholding long-established patterns of structural racism. The question that drives us should not be, “are we similar to others?,” but rather, “are we living up to the Just Imperative?,” which calls on the foundation to tackle the pernicious effects of racism and the structures, systems, and practices that uphold it. As an institution, we aspire do more than reflect the status quo: we want to change it.

Next Steps

We are still asking ourselves how we can best use this information to inform — and ultimately transform — our work. While our analysis is ongoing, here are few commitments we are making now:

We are missing important perspectives because the majority of organizations we support and invest in are White-led. While demographic data is one factor of many in our grantmaking decisions, we commit to working with and supporting a more diverse set of organizations and individuals in the years ahead.

We will continue to hold ourselves accountable by reporting the demographic data of the organizations with which we work. We will look for ways to do this that are connected to the grantmaking process and that reduce burden on grantee and impact investee organizations. As we seek to measure progress, we will define relevant terms and develop metrics for determining how organizations fit these definitions. For example, we have begun to consider how we define “BIPOC-led” and “BIPOC-serving” organizations.

The organizations we fund and invest in have told us that they face challenges with data collection and are working to become more equitable and inclusive organizations. We will look for opportunities to support this work among MacArthur grantees and impact investees through technical assistance and in the sector more broadly.

In the months since this survey was completed, the world has changed in ways that have added new urgency to the fight for justice. We do not have all the answers, and we know that we must learn by listening to our partners as we engage in this difficult but vital work. We invite accountability and hearing from a range of voices as, together, we build a more just and equitable future.

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