I’ve been reflecting on the Supreme Court’s recent decision to restrict race-conscious admissions at colleges and universities. I know the ruling has been weighing heavily on many of you too.
While the court’s decision about affirmative action was focused on higher education, we know there are potential implications for the charitable sector and the communities we serve.
This ruling could affect the work of philanthropy and nonprofits across the country. It could affect how we award scholarships and grants; impact how we collect and apply demographic data; and lead some to question their ongoing focus on work related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
It’s impossible to look at this decision in isolation. This moment reminds me that there has been a retrenchment of equity and justice across our nation. Systemic racism is an immense barrier to achieving a future where all people live in strong, healthy, and just communities.
To create transformative change, we need more spaces where sector leaders – especially leaders of color – can come together to find support and to build strategic alliances. We need to use our collective influence to advance policies that foster a healthy, racially just nation where all people can thrive.
These changes require advocacy, and we’re moving in the wrong direction. Only a small – and shrinking – portion of the nonprofit sector is advocating at all.
Independent Sector released a landmark report last week on nonprofit advocacy and civic engagement. This nationally representative research finds a disturbing decline in nonprofit advocacy, compared to 20 years ago. Only 31% of nonprofits report advocating or lobbying over the last 5 years – less than half the percentage that reported lobbying in 2000.
The recent Supreme Court decision shows us how advocacy aligns with the missions of many nonprofits, if not all of them.
Our new research tells us that a nonprofit’s mission has the biggest influence on whether it advocates or lobbies. About 70% of nonprofits that engage in policy say their mission encourages it. Nonprofits that say they’re committed to equity, however, are not engaging in advocacy. While the majority of nonprofits report having a diversity, equity, and inclusion statement, only 36% engage in policy activities aimed at creating more equitable systems.
There’s a disconnect between our sector’s intentions and its actions. To transform policies and systems, sector leaders need to get nonprofits off the sidelines and onto the playing field.
Will you join me in embracing our collective influence and advocacy? The changes we seek for the communities we serve rarely come without it.
Dr. Akilah Watkins is president and CEO of Independent Sector.