Sunday, June 13, 2010

Foundations and Diversity: Glass Pockets

Those of us who have been promoting women and philanthropy for so many years are keenly aware of the part that diversity has played in increasing our numbers as givers and as leaders.

Today, the Chronicle of Philanthropy published a column by Dr. Emmett D. Carson, the respected chief executive officer of Silicon Valley Community Foundation, in Mountain View, California .  

I first met Dr. Carson several years ago when he was a speaker at a conference I attended and was thrilled to hear him point out the need to bring diversity to the attention of the philanthropic world.

His column addresses a new Florida law that prohibits the State of Florida or local governments from requiring foundations to disclose certain demographic data about board and staff members, as well as grantees, without the written permission of those involved.  The law also prohibits the state from requiring a diverse board or requiring a foundation to make grants based on demographic information.  The demographic data covered by the new law include "race, religion, gender, national origin, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, and political-party registration of its employees, officers, directors, trustees, members, or owners."

In his column, Dr. Carson says, "During the McCarthy-era hearings, the chair of the Carnegie Corporation of New York said, “"We think that the foundation should have glass pockets."”

He goes on to say, “In the years since, foundations have largely embraced the values of diversity, accountability, and openness as a way of recognizing and protecting the enormous freedom and flexibility that foundations enjoy to do their work.”  But the new Florida law does just the opposite.  It not only raises questions about the values foundations have but it also could have significant limits on tax deductions of donors.

While Dr. Carson concurs that government should not decide who sits on boards and receives grants, he points out that, “the idea that government is prohibited from requesting diversity data …undermines the promise that foundations have made to the American public that they are committed to diversity, inclusiveness, accountability, and transparency in their operations.”

Dr. Carson concludes by cautioning, “the Florida law is likely to create a state-by-state battleground that will lead to the need for a federal law.  If we do not forcefully respond to this challenge, we should not be surprised when there are Congressional hearings and our claims of “glass pockets” fall on deaf ears.”

For a complete reading of the article, go to: 

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