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What We’re Learning about Nonprofits’ DEI Journeys

Learnings about Nonprofits’ DEI JourneysA few years ago, I came across this quote:

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

James Baldwin

It immediately struck a chord. In my personal life, I think of this often for everything from my health to my relationships. In my professional life, I’m an analyst at GuideStar. I keep this quote framed on my desk to remind me why analyzing and improving nonprofit data is so important. The data that nonprofits collect and report isn’t just information in a database. It has the power to shape decisions.

In recent years, the sector has begun to focus on data collection for organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). An organization’s DEI journey consists of the set of policies, practices, and realities used to create an equitable environment for personnel and the people it serves. An organization’s DEI journey is an important part of its overall operations. In fact, GuideStar displays DEI information in the Operations section of the Nonprofit Profile alongside Board Practices, CEO information, compensation, and the like.

In 2014, GuideStar launched the first of its kind program to collect diversity data from nonprofits at scale. GuideStar worked in collaboration with the D5 Coalition, a five-year coalition to advance philanthropy’s diversity, equity, and inclusion. D5 developed the data standards for this initiative with a wide range of partners. Through a voluntary questionnaire, organizations have shared data on their DEI practices as well as gender identity, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability status for their board, senior staff, and other staff members.

Why did we launch this effort in the first place? The lack of sector-wide standards for how data on diversity is collected has led to difficulties for nonprofits and foundations in identifying trends, gaps, overlaps, and opportunities. We hope that better diversity information across the sector will help foundations better understand those they are working to help and nonprofits better evaluate the impact of their work and hold themselves accountable to their goals.

It has been nearly four years since the launch of this effort, and to date more than 14,500 organizations have shared data on their staff, board, and DEI practices. We are proud to have been a part of so many organizations’ DEI journeys. And we’re excited to share some of what we’ve learned so far. Here are a few insights that we’ve gathered so far:

  1. Collecting and sharing demographics information is hard.
    Many things can stand in the way of organizations sharing information. Some may be worried about their collection process, others concerned how it may reflect on their organization. And some may not have the resources to get started. To help a organizations get started, GuideStar provides a set of resources on our community page.
  2. Process is just as important as numbers.
    The diversity questionnaire doesn’t just ask about the make-up of an organization’s board and staff. There are also questions about what diversity practices an organization uses to move through the process holistically. From those questions we’ve learned a ton about how nonprofits and foundations approach DEI work. At GuideStar, we’ve started to look at those questions as a best practice guide and are working to implement as many of the practices as possible.
  3. Wherever you start, you’re on the right track.
    Over the years I’ve spoken to many organizations that are committed to the process but concerned about their current diversity statistics. The advice that I give them it that sharing your DEI journey is in large part about the steps that you are taking to achieve your goal. If there is one thing I want people to know about DEI work, it’s this: anywhere is a great place to start. Just taking the step of sharing the data is a huge step on its own.

So, what’s next for our demographics collection processes? We’d like to make the DEI questionnaire even more useful to nonprofits and foundations. Many have requested more ways to understand diversity in the workplace, so we’re planning to add elements such as age and CEO-specific questions. Others have asked for ways to share their growth over time. So, we’ll be exploring ways to share changes in demographics year over year. We’re also working hard to bring more of our research findings to the public.

If you’re interested in learning more about the changes we have planned, please view GuideStar’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion plan. Completing the strategies listed on this document is only possible through the generous support of funders and partners. Please visit our DEI webpage or contact GuideStar's Philanthropic Relations team at if you would like to support our efforts in promoting DEI in the nonprofit sector.

Learnings about Nonprofits’ DEI JourneysJasmine Marrow is GuideStars director of nonprofit strategy and a member of the GuideStar Equity Team.

Topics: Diversity Diversity Data Nonprofit diversity Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion DEI