In light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the use of race-based preferences in college admissions, new questions have arisen about philanthropy’s use of similar practices from workplace policies to funding strategies. Many in the philanthropic sector have been strong proponents of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practices and have encouraged grantees to apply a racial equity lens in their work. However, some wonder to what end? What has this laser-focus on DEI accomplished for organizations that, in some cases, have been applying it for several years?
In a society that constantly evolves, philanthropic organizations do play a crucial role addressing social challenges and shaping our collective future. As we consider the impact the rise of DEI efforts has had on charitable organizations in recent years, it’s hard to ignore how the missions at some of our country’s largest philanthropic organizations have shifted as a result—raising concerns about whether their founders’ original intentions are being honored and whether these changes will hinder their future effectiveness. In a recent paper, “America’s Philanthropic Foundations: Corrupted Missions Under DEI Pressures,” Jonathan Butcher, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, addresses these questions.
Deviation from Founding Intentions
Historically, philanthropic organizations, like the iconic Kellogg Foundation and Mellon Foundation, have made substantial contributions to society. Initially, they aimed to address crucial needs such as children’s health care and education. However, a notable shift is occurring, with foundations increasingly embracing DEI programs influenced by critical race theory, which Butcher describes as “a Marxist worldview centered on power struggles that does nothing to help those who are in need and rejects America’s founding ideals of equality before the law and freedom and opportunity for all.”
While embracing diversity is undoubtedly important, the incorporation of racially divisive ideologies—that Butcher notes “if implemented, would violate federal civil rights laws”—raises questions about the alignment of these new missions with the founders’ original intentions.
Calls for Evidence-Based Approaches
The paper highlights a critical aspect that cannot be overlooked — research suggests many DEI initiatives lack evidence-based support. Studies indicate that diversity training programs, often implemented across sectors like education and corporations, have proven ineffective and financially burdensome. Meanwhile, attempts to address implicit bias have demonstrated weak and short-lived effects on attitudes and behavior. Even widely used tools like the Implicit Association Test have been criticized for their limitations.
Philanthropic organizations must critically evaluate the impact of their programs and adopt evidence-based approaches. Blindly following ideological trends risks undermining an organization’s ability to achieve meaningful change.
Equity and the Dismantling Narrative
The paper also sheds light on the dichotomy faced by large and small charitable organizations today. On one hand, they strive to support marginalized communities and embrace diversity. On the other, Butcher says they face criticism from “radical groups” and ideological factions that view foundations as contributing to systemic racism and are “calling for a dismantling of American institutions.” Philanthropies continue to be called out for falling short in supporting Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC)-led organizations and lacking equity in grantmaking decisions. The paper raises thought-provoking questions about whether foundations’ DEI statements and programs can ever satisfy these critics.
Embracing Meritocracy and Individual Initiative
To drive lasting change, Butcher suggests philanthropic organizations should focus on helping those in need, supporting individual initiative and promoting success based on merit, rather than focusing on immutable characteristics. By embracing the principles of the free-market system, he says foundations can ensure fairness and equal opportunities for all. This approach challenges those whose grantmaking is focused primarily on race and thus are likely perpetuating discrimination.
“America’s Philanthropic Foundations: Corrupted Missions Under DEI Pressures” confronts the shifting landscape of philanthropy and raises important questions about the effectiveness of DEI programs. It calls for a critical evaluation of missions and a commitment to evidence-based approaches. This report is more timely than ever as many charitable organizations may need to reexamine their DEI policies and programs in the context of the Supreme Court’s recent affirmative action ruling as well as our nation’s civil rights laws and protections.
As philanthropic organizations navigate this complex terrain, they must strive to uphold their founding intentions, embrace fairness and support individual initiative. By doing so, they can ensure their efforts have a meaningful and lasting impact on the communities they serve.