Amid Attacks on DEI, This Tool Can Help Funders Further Their Own Journeys — and Push Back

Vitalii Vodolazskyi/shutterstock

There has been a lot of discussion in the philanthrosphere about the impact of last year’s anti-affirmative action decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on the still relatively nascent movement among funders to promote diversity, equity and inclusion within and outside their organizations. For every bold statement by funders and call to action by nonprofit leaders, there are no doubt quieter discussions happening behind closed doors as funders try to determine their next steps. Less than eight months later, it’s still too early to draw any ultimate conclusions about whether the sector will mostly stand strong, or whether it will cave to attacks against efforts to redress our country’s systemic racism and other inequities.

But philanthropies that are still committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, or are at the very least “DEI-curious” (either despite, or perhaps because of, the backlash against diversity efforts) may want to make the time to encourage their employees to complete the 2024 Diversity Among Philanthropic Professionals (DAPP) survey being conducted by CHANGE Philanthropy. For one thing, this is probably the most in-depth survey of its kind in the sector: The DAPP survey takes a whole-person approach to identity, addressing everything from race, gender identity and sexual orientation to disability status and even religious diversity. The study aims “to help the philanthropic community better understand its workforce and leadership,” a goal that might be particularly important in today’s climate.

It can also be a useful tool for individual funders looking to deepen their DEI commitments. For budget-conscious funders, CHANGE Philanthropy provides a free, customized report to every organization that meets an anonymity threshold determined by both the size of its staff and the number of its employees who complete the survey. The recruitment phase of the survey began on January 10 and is open through March 15. Philanthropic staffers are also encouraged to participate on their own regardless of whether or not their employers choose to do so.

“A really great demographic instrument” made incredibly thorough

The first biannual DAPP survey was conducted by Funders for LGBTQ Issues — one of CHANGE Philanthropy’s partners — in 2018. That survey, understandably, focused on gender identity and sexual minority status. In 2020, CHANGE’s partner organizations, many of which represent philanthropic professionals across the identity spectrum, decided to take the survey under the organization’s collective wing.

The first survey “was a really great demographic instrument” for its focus area, said Tenaja Jordan, CHANGE Philanthropy’s research and communications director. To build on that strength, she said, starting in 2020, CHANGE solicited a wide range of input, including from its partner organizations and others, to make sure “as many identities as possible” were reflected in the final questions. 

DAPP is not the only survey on the philanthropy workforce that asks at least some demographic questions. The Council on Foundations, to give just one example, produces a report that includes demographic information related to sex, disability status and sexual orientation. The DAPP survey and report, though, drills down to an extremely granular level. A look at the 2022 DAPP infographic — a quick summary of a nearly 100-page report — doesn’t just reveal how many respondents, say, live with a disability (23%). The report also reflects the range of disabilities respondents reported, from vision issues to chronic illness. 

The DAPP’s level of detail isn’t the only unique thing about it. The survey also includes many open text fields, which allows respondents to share aspects of their own identities not included in the multiple choice questions. Responses to these fields may well inform future iterations of the survey, resulting in an even more complete look at the diversity among philanthropic professionals as the work progresses over time. 

Of course, hiring diverse individuals to staff an organization is just one step. The next is learning whether or not those individuals feel supported in the workplace. To address that concern, in 2022, DAPP researchers began asking respondents whether they feel their employers are receptive to the various aspects of their identities. Several results from the 2022 “Reception of Identity Index (RII)” should be a real concern to philanthropic employers that claim to support equity and inclusion. A full 1 out of 5 employees living with a disability felt “invisibilized” in the workplace, and while more than 80% of workers of color felt their workplaces received their race or ethnicity positively (and a very small percentage felt exploited), employees of color were still 10 times more likely to feel exploited in the workplace than their white counterparts. 

Overall, 92.7% of employees who live with a disability weren’t out about their disability at work, and 48% of LGBTQ employees were still in the closet. There’s obviously a lot of work yet to be done among funders. And these numbers, after all, only reflect the individuals and organizations inclined to respond to such a survey.

“DEI-curious” funders and the limits of the DAPP

As valuable as the DAPP survey and report are, it’s also important to understand its limits. First, DAPP’s results, no matter how thorough, aren’t reflective of the field as a whole. Participants are “at the very least DEI-curious,” Jordan said. “People who aren’t interested in DEI, or who are opponents of DEI, will not touch the study,” so “there is a whole swath of philanthropy and philanthropists that we are not collecting data on.” In addition, survey participation is entirely voluntary, even among the employees of funders that encourage their workers to take part. The people who choose to respond may well have very different experiences of the way their identities are received at work than those who don’t, while others answer some questions but don’t feel comfortable answering others. 

To compile the most complete data they can, Jordan said, CHANGE Philanthropy hopes to get the survey out to as many people as possible “so we can get more data, period, and see what that data looks like.” Fortunately, it appears that the DAPP survey is indeed catching on. In 2022, the funder response rate increased by 38% — and when we spoke just two weeks after the launch of this year’s effort, Jordan said that 20 funders had already signed up. 

But no matter how much data is collected over time, it’s important to note that the DAPP is just a start. 

“The DAPP survey is one step” along the journey, said CHANGE Philanthropy Executive Director Alice Hom. “It’s not like, you take this step and you’re done. The next step is, ‘Now that I have this information, what might I start implementing?’” Otherwise, Hom said, the DAPP report is like yet another never-implemented strategic plan. 

Despite the limitations inherent in the DAPP survey, though, the fact that employees are able to participate anonymously, coupled with the sheer volume of information collected, makes this a potentially valuable tool. In a climate where the very value of diversity, equity and inclusion is under attack, demonstrating the amount of diversity that already exists in the sector might be a powerful statement in and of itself.