California Non-Profits Are Not as Diverse as State

December 3, 2009

By Annette Fuentes
New America Media 

California may be a beacon of diversity, with Asians, Latinos and African Americans comprising the majority. But when it comes to its nonprofit sector, that racial and ethnic diversity is not reflected, and Latinos are especially underrepresented, according to a recent study.

Although Latinos are more than one third of California residents, they represent just 6 percent of directors and 28 percent of staff jobs at nonprofit groups. Among members of boards of directors, Latinos are just 9 percent.

Asian Americans are also underrepresented in leadership positions, though less dramatically. They are 12 percent of Californians, but just 7 percent of executive directors of nonprofits.

“I was surprised, to an extent,” said Carol De Vita, co-author of the study from the Urban Institute. “California is viewed as such a diverse state. It was interesting to see how it measured up compared to other studies nationally.”

Leadership of the nonprofit sector was far from reflecting California’s population, 57 percent of whom are people of color. Yet just a quarter of executive directors of groups surveyed were Asian, Latino or African- American.

Diversity at the top is linked, the survey suggests, to having a diverse staff. At organizations headed by people of color, 72 percent of employees are also Latino, Asian and/or African-American, compared to 52 percent of staff at groups headed by white directors.

De Vita said that diversity in leadership and among employees of nonprofits is not simply about equity. There are practical reasons for creating organizations that look like the communities they serve.

“There are some theories and not lot of hard evidence which say that if you’re delivering services to particular audience, it makes a difference if services are delivered in a culturally competent manner,” De Vita said. “When it’s done that way, people are more likely to participate and have better outcomes.”

Another important finding the survey spotlighted is that wo-men are 70 percent of all employees of nonprofits. Health and education organizations had the highest percentage of female workers. Even among board members, women were the majority. That is in contrast to most boards of directors nationally, which are typically male-dominated, De Vita noted. “California has reached a tipping point,” she said.

She attributed women’s heavy representation to their historic employment in the “caring professions” such as teaching, health care and social services.

The survey, which is based on responses from nearly 1,800 nonprofits across the state, also gleaned information about their financial health and service delivery during the recession.

Sixty-five percent of all California nonprofits saw their funding and revenue drop and 44 percent saw an increased demand for services. Those numbers were sharper for nonprofits led by a person of color: Seventy percent saw drops in funding and 50 percent saw increased service demands.

 The Urban Institute survey of California is one in a series, De Vita said, that they plan to conduct in order to create a baseline of information on the nonprofit sector nationally. The next survey will look at the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. region.

“Our country is changing dramatically along racial/ethnic lines,” De Vita said. “Are we recruiting people from all areas to participate in nonprofits? The idea is to have hard evidence of what we look like now so that groups can start to talk about what we want to look like in the future.”

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