Identifying Talent, Institutionalizing Diversity: Race and Philanthropy in Post-Civil Rights America.
Jiannbin Lee Shiao. Duke University Press (www.dukeupress.edu). 2004. 312 pages. $84.95, $23.95 paper.
Reviewed by Lynn Huntley
This ambitious volumeIdentifying Talent, Institutionalizing Diversity: Race and Philanthropy in Post-Civil Rights Americaas its name suggests, examines an array of complex and interrelated subjects. In author Jiannbin Lee Shiao's words:
This book is about a quiet transformation in U.S. race relations: the institutionalization of diversity policy among elite private organizations in the wake of a conservative backlash against the progress of racialized minorities . . . [It] . . . examines the emergence of diversity policy by focusing on the institutional realities behind the generosity of philanthropic institutions seeking to privately intervene in U.S. race relations.
Using in-depth case studies of the San Francisco, Cleveland and Ford foundations to illuminate this terrain, the volume raises a number of important, even intriguing, questions:
What were the major differences in outlook, composition and impact of the Cleveland and San Francisco foundations from the l960s through the early l990s, and how did the context within which the foundations operated shape programs and outcomes? How did the Ford Foundation's programs related to diversity come into being, and what were Ford's motives in making common cause with local donors? What difference does the composition of private foundations' staff and trustees make in philanthropic outlook and activities? How do foundations gauge their effectiveness? Is philanthropy a "field?" If so, what were the forces that brought it into being? What is the difference between "affirmative action" and diversity policy? How does philanthropy intersect with the business and governmental sectors?
The author spent three years interviewing foundation trustees and personnel, "local political informants" and directors of nonprofit grantseeking organizations, as well as reading oral histories, annual reports and Council on Foundations publications, to find answers to those and many other questions.
There is a lot of good information in the book. However, it was not written for philanthropy practitioners. It is a book by an academic for an academic audience; it is filled with the constructs, dense language and references one commonly expects in scholarly publications. Caveat emptor.
What I missed most in the volumewhich had many interesting observations to makeis the lack of focus on the interactive nature of the philanthropic enterprise. Other than periodic and shallow references to grantees, one could read the whole volume and never know that private foundations primarily pursue their missions through supporting other nonprofitsgranteeswith their own capacities, aspirations and missions. Especially in areas such as community development, civil rights, public policy and anti-poverty efforts, foundations may provide a grantmaking framework and award the money, but most of the heavy lifting is done by their grantees.
If the volume were only about program choices made by foundations and internal dynamics, the limited focus on grantees might not be so troubling. But when talking about foundations' impact on social problems, the work of agents of the social change effortgranteesshould be on the stage, if not at its center. Even though power between grantees and grantors is not evenly apportioned, each depends upon the other for mission fulfillment.
Philanthropy is hard to write about because of its complexity. Scholars from the fields of sociology, organizational change, intergroup relations or philanthropy will enjoy digesting and debating this sinewy read. The scholar who undertook this study deserves a lot of credit for plunging into these difficult subjects. I just wish that he had written an accessible book for philanthropy and nonprofit practitioners like me.