Featuring Emmett Carson, CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation
Madame Walker Theatre
617 Indiana Ave
Indianapolis, IN 46202
On March 2, we hosted a summit on the topic of diversity and philanthropy. The goal was to listen and learn from scholars and practitioners on what role the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy can play in advancing diversity efforts throughout the philanthropic sector. The summit centered around remarks from Dr. Emmett Carson, which were followed by panel discussions on research and leadership.
- Nelson Colon, Puerto Rico Community Foundation
- Tyrone Freeman, IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
- Makeba Morgan Hill, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
- Susan Johnson, Lumina Foundation
- Ben Maulbeck, Funders for LGBTQ Issues
- Deb Mesch, IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
- Una Osili, IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
- Michael Twyman, IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy
Dr. Emmett Carson's remarks
“It’s The Right Thing To Do”
Dr. Emmett Carson opened his remarks by referencing the well-known quote, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
In his 30 years of professional experience, he was hesitant to speak again on the topic of diversity and philanthropy. After numerous convenings and talks, it seemed nothing had improved over the intervening decades. Despite this, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation has shown it can be done.
According to a 2010 Council on Foundations study, only 13 percent of foundations’ boards had people of color, whereas it is 56 percent at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. So, he asked, what’s getting in the way of more foundations increasing their diversity?
Dr. Carson suggested that when it comes to making the case, many arguments in support of diversity fail to be as compelling as the simplest one: “It’s the right thing to do.” In a democratic society, the fact that it is consistent with our values makes it worth doing.
Dr. Carson noted that there has been progress on the gender front: approximately 50 percent of foundations’ CEOs are women and women compose nearly 40 percent of foundations’ board membership; however, there has not been a corresponding increase in giving to women’s’ and girls’ causes.
As a CEO or boardmember, you are, he observed, the leader of the entire organization and its constituents, reflecting their broad goals and aims, subsuming your individual priorities. Consequently, diversity itself may not change the philanthropic sector’s behavior and focus areas. However, the central supporting argument remains: “it’s still the right thing to do.”
Dr. Carson observed that achieving diversity on a board of directors is easy. Boards get to determine their own membership—they choose who sits next to them. There are no shareholders, customers, voters, or other external constituencies making membership determinations—only other board members. So, once again, why hasn’t it happened? Dr. Carson posited that it is a question of motivation.
Private foundations have no market pressures. They are free to create themselves. They are “islands onto themselves.” Without external pressure, there is no motivation to make the change. Indeed, the most recent sector-wide survey on board diversity was published in 2010 by the Council on Foundations, nearly a decade ago.
Moreover, Glasspockets, an initiative from The Foundation Center to increase transparency, had only 86 foundations—out of 86,000 total foundations—share the makeup of their boards across common diversity dimensions. They simply have no pressure to change—and he said it will not come from within these “islands.”
Dr. Carson insists that it must come from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and other leading academic institutions. He charged the school to bring its research and educational experiences to the table.
The school can call out to institutions who aren’t making diversity and inclusion efforts; it can write the reports showing a lack of diversity; it can use its role as a well-respected institution to enter the foundation world’s “circle of trust” and speak these truths with the weight of scholarship behind it.
VIDEO: Watch Replay