Making diversity count in the charity sector

If everyone thinks diversity is such a good thing, why is there so little of it around in the charity sector? Dr Sanjiv Lingayah outlines a new initiative from ACEVO and Voice4Change England to address this and other difficult questions.

A new partnership project between Voice4Change England and ACEVO funded by the National Lottery Community Fund will develop practical ideas to help the charity sector turn decisively towards race equality, diversity and inclusivity.

Making Diversity Count is a response to an evident lack of equality, diversity and inclusion in the charity sector. Fewer than one in 10 voluntary sector employees (9%) are from BAME backgrounds, a lower proportion than both the public and private sectors (both at 11%) and a lower proportion than the UK population as a whole (14%). There is even less racial diversity at executive and non-executive leadership level in charities (between 5% and 8%).

More optimistically, there appears to be a growing interest in change in the charity sector, including the pledge on racial diversity from ACEVO and the Institute of Fundraising and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion working group initiated by the Association of Charitable Foundations.

ACEVO and Voice4Change England aim to add to this momentum. In particular, Making Diversity Count means to accelerate progress – in part by starting its work from a new vantage point.

Opening propositions

Amongst our initial propositions for Making Diversity Count are the following three:

1.      The charity sector has a race equality problem

We suggest that it is time to acknowledge that a racial diversity problem in the charitable sector is a race equality problem. The reason for saying this explicitly is that diversity initiatives can fast forward past how we got in this situation in the first place. Whilst it’s good to focus on action and the future, we can end up avoiding essential but uncomfortable issues such as racism and underplaying the level of change required for true change in the charity sector.

2.    Changing the song, not just the singer

For charities with diversity and equality in their DNA, having a more ‘representative’ staff or trustee board is just part of the equation. Deep-down diversity is reflected in everything the organisation does. We, as a sector, need to accept that meaningful diversity/race equality/inclusion approaches in an organisation or in a sector changes not only who does the work (workforce) but how it gets done (process); the work itself (activity/output); and who benefits and how (outcomes).

3.  It takes a system

A lack of diversity in charity sector employees and leadership should be seen as a symptom of a deeper malaise. It is the product of a system of interconnected rules, institutional practices and ideas that govern everyday life. These factors separate BAME people from charities: whether as potential employees or as populations whose lives are enhanced by the work of charities. As such, it is not enough for charities to ‘fix’ their own organisational deficits. As a sector, we need to work together to eliminate the diversity problem at the source and to embed rules, institutional practices and ideas that instead produce and reproduce equality, diversity and inclusion.

Delivering the project

At the heart of the project is a call for inputs from different actors in the charity world.

We want to centre BAME voices and experiences and make them heard as a matter of principle and because BAME people who know the charity sector are uniquely well-placed to shape a more positive future.

We also need to hear perspectives from senior leaders and charity chief executives to understand their ways of thinking about and efforts to advance issues of race equality, diversity and inclusion. This needs to be ‘real talk’: honest and ‘unveneered’ conversation that includes charity leaders who are signed up to the diversity agenda as well as those who have concerns and qualms.

We also want to engage with ‘system-shapers’: those who shape the operating environment for charities, including funders, charity recruiters, regulators and journalists. We want to hear about your ideas for creating conditions for meaningful and lasting change.

If you fall into any of these three categories please click here by Friday 24 May 2019 to go to our short expression of interest form. We can anonymise any and all participation in the project and people who complete the form will receive early releases of our findings and invites to project events.

Finally, this work is about solutions. If you know people and organisations in the charity world that are leading the way in race equality, diversity and inclusion please let us know so that we can share their story. To do this for questions, comments or suggestions email

Your contributions are essential if we are to make equality, diversity and inclusion business as usual in the charity sector.

Your sector needs you!

Sanjiv Lingayah is an associate of Voice4Change England and is research lead for Making Diversity Count. 

Photo by Oleg Laptev on Unsplash

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