Foundation Boards Shouldn’t Be Filled Just with Wealthy People

Pablo Eisenberg

In recent years the United States has developed into an increasingly pronounced class society. We see it in the growing inequality of income and wealth; we witness it in the expansion of corporate power and influence at a time when blue-collar job status is on the decline; and we view it in the daily depiction of our lives on our television screens.

Nowhere are class divisions more visible than in the most elite of American institutions, the philanthropic foundations. The last vestige of royalty in America, their boards are composed almost entirely of wealthy and highly paid people who increasingly determine our country’s economy, public policies, values, and social practices. With few exceptions, they exclude the diverse faces that make up today’s America.

Teachers, ministers, community leaders, social workers, small-business owners, blue-collar workers, union representatives, youth workers, and disabled people are rarely found on foundation boards. That is the case both with foundations started by one person or family and the community funds that raise and distribute money in one region.

When people in the foundation world talk about diversity, they typically mean questions of race and gender, not income level.

The Council on Foundations has started an effort to increase the number of minorities and women who work at foundations and serve on their boards. The project does not seek to do anything about the issue of class diversity.

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Pablo Eisenberg is a senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute.