I want to let you in on an emerging practice.

Philanthropists who want to increase impact are turning to diversity and inclusion as tools for effective giving.

Good intentions do not make for philanthropic success on their own. Blind spots cost philanthropists — and the causes they espouse — dearly. A gift can be given for the right reasons to the wrong group. A grant can be generously dispersed, but without careful research. An investment in a social enterprise with great promise can be rendered impotent by a misguided business plan.


To make the most of their philanthropic dollars, donors practice due diligence. Staff, advisers and even donors themselves check financial information, perform site visits and talk to experienced stakeholders. This much is well known.

But when the concepts of diversity and inclusion are added to basic due diligence, the result can create a philanthropy that is both responsive and efficient.

To put it another way, diversity and inclusion are practical methods for getting better results. Here are some definitions:

» Diversity is the practice of including a full range of perspectives, ideas and experience in philanthropic decision-making.

» Inclusion seeks the participation of individuals from diverse backgrounds in the process.

For more information, see this guide by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

For more information, see this guide by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

These principles have a strong association with philanthropic efforts to create a more just and equitable society, especially in regard to historically disadvantaged populations.

But any philanthropist — working in any issue area — can benefit from adopting a policy of including diverse voices at all levels of a giving program. The New York Times expressed the idea concisely in a 2008 headline: “Diversity = Productivity.”

“There’s a lot of empirical data to show that diverse cities are more productive, diverse boards of directors make better decisions, the most innovative companies are diverse,” said systems scholar, professor Scott E. Page of the University of Michigan and author of the book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies

“People from different backgrounds have varying ways of looking at problems, what I call ‘tools.’ The sum of these tools is far more powerful in organizations with diversity than in ones where everyone has gone to the same schools, been trained in the same mold and thinks in almost identical ways.”

In philanthropy, tapping into diverse thinking is common sense. Better-informed funding decisions often require a more comprehensive analysis of both problems and their solutions. The principles of diversity and inclusion also enhance the cultural competency of any giving program — building a deeper and more operational understanding of the diverse people and communities it aims to serve.

— Author and writer Steven Crandell helps integrate story and strategy for organizations, with nonprofit foundations a particular focus. “Thinking Philanthropy” aims to provide practical, thought-provoking ideas about giving. This article was cross-posted on Tumblr. Steven can be contacted at stevencrandell@noozhawk.com, or follow him on Twitter: @stevencrandell. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.