Mary Ellen Capek and Molly Mead, authors of Effective Philanthropy: Organizational Success through Deep Diversity and Gender Equality, talk about how a new understanding of diversity and gender equality can strengthen organizations and increase public benefit.
Why is philanthropy important today?
Although philanthropy is increasingly common in many countries, the U.S. has the most institutionalized history of philanthropy—driven at least in part by federal income-tax exemptions for contributions to organizations that are certified "charitable" or "nonprofit" by state governments. In 2004, more than 66,000 foundations with over $476.7 billion in assets gave an estimated $32.4 billion in grants to nonprofit organizations to support a variety of activities, including research, health, education, arts, and culture as well as both systemic and charitable efforts to alleviate poverty and improve people’s lives. Foundation resources are money that would otherwise be added to federal and state treasuries, money otherwise taxed and used for public benefit. For this reason alone, the public should know more about how foundations are managed. By virtue of their "power of the purse" as well as more subtle forms of influence, these foundations are key players in U.S. social, economic, and public policy and are also increasingly influential internationally. So for all these reasons, philanthropy is important to know more about. And when foundations learn to function effectively, the potential for public benefit is tremendous.
Your book is called Effective Philanthropy. What do you mean by "effective" philanthropy?
While many [philanthropic] foundations, especially larger, professionally staffed foundations, work responsibly, collegially, and for "the common good," many more—an estimated five out of six U.S. foundations—are unstaffed and, for want of a better word, idiosyncratic because they are influenced by family members on their boards or financial advisors who may or may not have "the common good" as part of their portfolio. Given their inherently elite status with so few outside pressures to change, foundations are the least likely organizations to model cutting-edge effectiveness initiatives.
Effective philanthropy succeeds at amassing, managing, then allocating financial and human resources in ways that have the greatest positive impact in the sectors that foundations choose to fund. To allocate resources effectively, foundations must have vision and strategies for their grant making that allow them to analyze issues and concerns they want to influence, identifying both challenges and potential resources. They must be able to find the nonprofit organizations most likely to produce the results they intend. They must be able to structure their grants in ways that will be most useful to their grantees. And they must evaluate what they do to ensure they are having the intended impacts. The most important findings from our research revealed links between foundation effectiveness and institutionalizing nuanced understandings of diversity, what in the book we call "deep diversity," including gender.
What is "deep diversity" all about, why the emphasis on "deep"?
The term "diversity" is commonly understood to refer to race and ethnicity more than it is to gender or class. But focusing on race or class apart from gender creates false dichotomies. In fact, women and girls are part of every racial and ethnic group from the most privileged to the least: women and girls are included in all economic classes, sexual orientations, disabilities, age groups, and other diversities. And understanding gender also means understanding how men and boys of all races and classes are adversely affected by "gender conformity"—the head counselor in an inner city after-school career program, for example, who discourages a Hispanic boy who wants to be a nursery school teacher; a welfare-to-work initiative that offers parenting classes for mothers but not for fathers; or a large nonprofit legal resource agency that offers "family leave" for both men and women but whose woman CEO through teasing and decisions about promotion implicitly discourages men from making use of the policy.
Diversity also works to democratize boards and staffs of organizations. More diverse boards and staffs have a better shot at being effective. Understanding gender in the context of other diversities like race, class, and culture—which also means understanding the insidious, often subtle and unacknowledged preference for "normal"—is essential for building healthier institutions. Philanthropic and nonprofit leaders interviewed for our book emphasized the need for new language to capture this understanding, so throughout our book, we use the term "deep diversity" to describe an institutionalized understanding of diversity that goes wide as well as deep: wide to include the breadth and web of differences that weave through most modern organizations and deep into an organization’s DNA, its institutional history and culture.
What do you mean by "unacknowledged preference for ‘normal’," which in your book you call "naming Norm." Why is "naming Norm" important to organizations?
Organizations that institutionalize deep diversity have learned to challenge norms. In our book, we define capital "N" Norm as the insidious, often subtle and unacknowledged tyranny of "normal." Webster’s Third defines norm as "an ideal standard binding upon the members of a group and serving to guide, control, or regulate proper and acceptable behavior"—an innocuous enough definition describing a fundamental building block of civil society. However, there are good norms and bad norms. Bad norms get in the way of our health and the health of our relationships and organizations. So the key questions about Norm are: Who gets to decide "proper and acceptable behavior"? Who decides who looks "normal"? Why do these controls and guides so often become blind spots that get in the way of effective organizations?
At its most extreme, Norm becomes racism, sexism, heterosexism, homophobia, transgender phobia, classism, fundamentalism, egotism, ableism, ageism, and xenophobia, and abuse of social, economic, and political power. Most organizations have learned to avoid at least the appearance of these egregious manifestations of Norm. But it is the hidden assumptions, the unspoken expectations, and unyielding attitudes that make Norm so dangerous for deep diversity. Norm assumes the face of neutrality, the appearance of "universal"—generic, genderless, objective, colorblind, classless—in determining policies, procedures, and informal cultural interactions and assumed values that in fact are neither neutral nor universal. We wrote this book to help foundations, nonprofits, and a wide range of other organizations recognize Norm, the arbiter of "proper and acceptable behavior" that too often becomes an unnamed, undiscussable elephant on the table, the invisible dead center of organizations, and we wrote this book to help organizations learn to dismantle Norm—to learn to spot and avoid the pressures of convention, those "normal" organizational imperatives that reproduce "the way it’s always been done" conventions, the ruts in the brain, over-and-over-and-over-again preferences, styles, and comfort zones instead of reaching for innovative and effective governance, staffing, and collaborative partnerships. Of all "normal" group identities, gender is perhaps the most familiar. For better or for worse, in virtually all modern societies, people are identified as males or females, men or women, boys or girls. So understanding gender and gender identity becomes a key strategy in this book for understanding differences, deep diversity, and Norm knowledge. Understanding how unexamined assumptions about gender in fact structure relationships and expectations of what’s normal and what’s rewarded in organizations is key to achieving effective philanthropy. Throughout this book, we use examples of the social construction of gender and gender identity to document how Norm undermines innovation and effectiveness, both in foundations and in their grantees. And how understanding gender enhances and strengthens innovation, especially an understanding of gender framed within deep diversity, the complex textures of people’s lives and cultures and an understanding of the cultures of their organizations.
Read the full interview here.