This is the second of three posts sharing findings from Not Just Money: Equity Issues in Cultural Philanthropy, a research study conducted by Helicon Collaborative with funding from the Surdna Foundation. This post looks at the lack of diversity among decision-makers (arts foundation staff and boards, individual donors and cultural institution leadership) and distinct challenges faced by organizations of color and those serving low-income communities in both urban and rural communities.

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In the business sector, academia, science and other realms, there is growing evidence about the value and importance of diverse perspectives in decision-making. In the arts and cultural realm, variety in the socio-economic, educational and professional backgrounds in foundation personnel can increase the likelihood that diverse artists, artforms and cultural traditions will be equitably valued, and assessed in ways that are appropriate for their cultural and social context.

The leadership of philanthropic institutions does not reflect the demographics of the communities they serve. The Foundation Center’s 2015 Foundation Giving Forecast Survey showed that among foundations that give more than 10 percent of their funding to the arts:

  • More than 92 percent of presidents are white
  • 87 percent of board members are white
  • 85 percent of executive positions are held by white people
  • 68 percent of program staff are white, and
  • The number of people of color working in these foundations increased only 1 percent between 2011 and 2015.

Giving to the arts by individuals is an increasingly important part of the nonprofit cultural economy. Over the past decade, individual giving to the arts has increased, while inflation-adjusted giving by arts foundations has declined. Individual giving now represents about one-third of the cultural sector’s total revenue, and is nearly three times the amount contributed by foundations.

The lack of diversity in the leadership of large cultural institutions also plays a role in shaping patterns of cultural philanthropy. Through their organizational and programming decisions, the leaders of larger cultural institutions determine which artists, cultural forms, and creative ideas will receive validation, resources and attention.

For these reasons, diversity in the leadership of larger cultural institutions is centrally important to achieving greater equity in cultural funding.

Learn how to build diversity in board membership.

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