For Nonprofits, the Bottom Line is Diversity and Impact
October 10, 2018

A common fallacy I hear in boardrooms and C-suites alike is that for-profit business and nonprofit organizations have no differences, except a nonprofit does not pay taxes. The fact is that nonprofit 501(c)(3) and other civil society institutions are tax exempt to make it easier for us to serve needs not adequately met by business or government. The organizing principal is around business practices that support mission first and foremost and allow balance sheet results to be an important support player in that, never the other way around. There is a reason we are a nonprofit business. And if nonprofit organizations are too focused on the bottom line, how can we put in the work when it comes to addressing inclusivity?  

We see gender and other diversity gaps in the nonprofit industry every day, and especially in the international affairs field. I am proud that nonprofit institutions like the Pacific Council can aggressively pursue critical work to address inclusivity and other societal causes in order to make the industry a place that empowers, supports, and improves the lives of women in particular.

Looking at leading Washington, D.C., think tanks, Women in International Security (WIIS) published its scorecard showing that, "despite the strides women have made in the security field, this scorecard shows significant gender gaps within the think tank community." Numbers prove that theme is true in other ways: 73 percent of men make up the expert pool in think tanks and two-thirds of its leaders are also men.

I am proud that nonprofit institutions like the Pacific Council can aggressively pursue critical work to address inclusivity and other societal causes in order to make the industry a place that empowers, supports, and improves the lives of women in particular.

Data from the International Development Research Center confirm that 23 percent of think tanks have female executive directors. You may count me among that small proportion; in 2016, I became the first-ever female executive director of the Pacific Council. However, even if the Pacific Council may set itself apart from the traditional think tank model in some ways, we know the work is ongoing.

Recent review of our 1,200-person membership show less than half of our members are women. As for our Board of Directors, we are working hard to include more voices in our leadership, and as a result, our most recent Board classes are made up of 75 percent people of color with about a third of them women. I noted in this earlier article that we actively monitor the Council’s own recruitment, hiring, retention, and other human resources policies to mitigate any disparate impacts on diversity and gender.

Changing the face of foreign affairs, literally and figuratively, requires work and unwavering commitment. We have decided to lead and match our vision with our business practices. Money does not dictate our bottom line success. The real bottom line is impact on society.

Inclusion and impact go hand-in-hand. Including more perspectives and inviting a variety of voices to the table results in stronger policy outcomes. As an organization striving to become a West Coast foreign policy powerhouse, we have to represent all the people who live here. Our work must be inclusive of the diverse place we call home. We must understand that to create positive social change, we need to listen to every voice.

Money does not dictate our bottom line success. The real bottom line is impact on society.

Governor Jerry Brown just signed a bill requiring publicly held corporations in California to have a "representative number of women on its Board of Directors." How can the nonprofit sector follow a similar path and include more voices? How do we meet our financial needs and our values?

When money reigns supreme, the real strategies and objectives of the organization are not met. How can nonprofit organizations do good work if their primary focus is on money and those who financially support the organization? It is an issue facing nonprofit organizations around the country, and not just in foreign affairs. According to the NonProfit Times, nonprofit boards are almost 79 percent white. Eighty-three percent of board members are older than 40. Women make up less than half of nonprofit boards. Change starts at the top, which means boards have to be inclusive to achieve the impact we wish to have.

We know that there are many people who have something to contribute at the board level. In fact, boards do not need to focus solely on fundraising efforts and financial issues. They can be idea incubators. Lead generators. Expert networkers. In fact, one of our own Pacific Council directors recently sat down with a few members of our staff to review our upcoming strategies and goals for 2019. Board members can have a voice in more than just finances. This notion could help organizations open the door to inviting younger professionals to the table, offering new and emerging leaders the chance to have a say, to share their experiences, to offer insight and advice, and to learn from more established professionals.

We recognize that we cannot dismiss history and those who have supported us to get the Pacific Council to where we are. But we are looking to bridge the gap between where we have been and where we should be, to bring new voices together from a variety of backgrounds.   

This is why the Pacific Council is rapidly making changes to re-focus our efforts on inclusivity. We are actively investing in the next generation of foreign policy leaders by providing opportunities for members of all backgrounds to have a seat at the table and express their views.

We’re exploring ways to bring more diverse voices to our Board. We follow a policy to feature women experts on all of our panels. We consistently look for new ways to highlight the achievements of women leaders in our membership. We designed a delegation of Emerging Leaders to represent us in Mexico during discussions on the bilateral relationship. We subsidize members under 35 years old to take away some of the financial barriers of dues and event fees. We created a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) staff committee to create programs elevating underrepresented voices in our communities. We have a DEI task force of members to advise our Board. Since 2014, the Council has pursued a strategy for pioneering our own DEI work, and we now enter our second strategic era for 2020 and beyond with much remaining to do.

Yes, we agree a business—whether tax exempt or not—needs to be financially sustainable, but chasing the money or ranking those interests above mission often undermines the importance of nonprofits in bettering society. We still have a long way to go, but we are committed to going there.

If you’d like to join us in investing in inclusivity, please consider supporting our "Pay It Forward" campaign to bring new, diverse voices into our international affairs work.


Jennifer Faust is the executive director of the Pacific Council.

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