Community foundations push nonprofits to diversify

February 12, 2010
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(Editor's note: This is the first installment of a series of stories examining the issue of ethnic diversity in local nonprofits and community foundations.)

When Camp Newaygo asked the Grand Rapids Community Foundation for money to renovate its Lang Lodge in the mid-2000s, the answer was "No."

"We had hoped that they would lead the capital campaign with a gift that then others would look to because they do have a lot of credibility in the community," recalled Jane Vitek, director of the 101-acre girls' camp a few miles outside of Newaygo.

NONPROFIT DIVERSITY
Percent of nonprofits with board members who are:

Women: 100 percent
Men: 96 percent
Two or more races/ethnic background: 64 percent
Under age 35: 51 percent
Have a disability: 37 percent
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender: 22 percent
Do not speak English as first language: 14 percent

Source: Michigan Nonprofit Association, Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University

GRCF Vice President of Programs Marcia Rapp said the foundation saw that the camp, which was founded in 1926 to give city girls from Grand Rapids an outdoors experience, had lost its connections to minority and low-income families.

So instead of providing funding for the $2.5 million construction project, the GRCF worked with Camp Newaygo to develop relationships with a Grand Rapids school and provided scholarships for a number of children from lower income families.

The result: The proportion of minority campers has grown from 5 percent to 20 to 25 percent within four years, Vitek said.

Each year Camp Newaygo serves 400 overnight campers and 100 day campers ages 7 to 17, and another 5,000 in a variety of programs for the kindergarten through sixth grade set.

The Michigan Nonprofit Association and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University in December released a report on diversity and inclusion in the state's nonprofit sector.

According to the report, 95 percent of responding nonprofits agreed that more diversity and inclusion would benefit their organizations. Fifty-nine percent said they had adopted policies regarding diversity and inclusion, although those with budgets of $500,000 or less were the least likely to have such policies.

Race, ethnicity and gender were characteristics most likely to be addressed in the policies. Some 93 percent of diversity and inclusion policies at nonprofits include race and ethnicity; 89 percent, gender; 86 percent, disability; 85 percent, religion; 83 percent, age; 73 percent, sexual orientation and gender identity; and 60 percent, socioeconomic status.

"We feel, as a community foundation, that we have a higher responsibility for addressing issues of diversity," Rapp said. "We often will work with our nonprofit grantees to have good conversations about diversity. We do ask about the demographics for every grant we are reviewing. We often have conversations about how to have a better match between their leadership, the board and staff to match the clientele that they are serving."

The MNA/Johnson Center report indicated that 46 percent of nonprofits said they need help in recruiting diverse board members. Camp Newaygo is looking for someone willing to join its board to strengthen its connections to minority communities, Vitek said.

"We currently think that that's one of the opportunities to start to have more active involvement and for us to get to know the needs of minority communities," she said. "It would be a strong point to have a board member who knows the community and can help us."

Vitek said Camp Newaygo was owned by the Grand Rapids YWCA until 1996. It now is part of the private nonprofit Newaygo County Community Services, but has its own board of directors.

Commitment from board members and help from the GRCF were keys to the progress Camp Newaygo has made so quickly, she said. "I don't in any way want to mislead you that we've got it solved. We continue to work hard at recruiting minority populations. We felt when the foundation said no, that was a red flag to us. It wasn't that we were trying to serve their request; it was what did we want for our children?"

Next week: More details about what community foundations are doing to promote diversity.

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