Promoting ethnic diversity in the charity sector

Different coloured paints

Promoting ethnic diversity in the charity sector

How much are BAME people are represented in charity governance/fundraising? Are charities losing out by failing to ensure more diverse trustees and supporters?
Megan Williams

Britain is becoming increasingly multicultural. According to the 2011 census, 15% of people were born outside of the UK[1], and this is expected to increase to 30% by 2051[2]. This increase in BAME/BME (Black and Ethnic Minority) populations provides a fantastic opportunity for charities to not only widen their volunteer and donor base, but also their employee profile. In reality, these groups are not fully represented within, or engaged with, the mainstream charity sector[3]. Generally speaking, charities remain conservative in their engagement, appealing to white, middle class communities. Looking within charities, a huge 57.4% of charities have no BAME trustees, and looking at the largest 500 charities in the UK, only 6.3% of trustees are BAME[4].

Diversity should be seen as strength; charities will lose out if they ignore this. In terms of donors, Deepak Mahtani, a fundraising consultant, advises that the second and third generation ethnic minority communities are increasingly willing and able to donate as they become more integrated into society. He warns:

“charities will miss out if they don’t widen their donor profile to include young, upwardly mobile people from ethnic minority communities”.

 - Deepak Mahtani  [5] 

The disposable income of Britain’s black and ethnic minority community is over £300 bn[6]- a resource that is not always on the radar of charities, who tend to target the white British middle class. This is not to say that ethnic minority communities do not already engage in charity work, or take part in fundraising. However, much of the voluntary work carried out by people from these communities in not recognised by the mainstream third sector- it is just part and parcel of life. Engaging these communities with formal volunteering opportunities will provide an invaluable human resource for charities. In addition, as we are well aware, the social return of volunteering is high- around between six and twelve times the money invested, according to the Bank of England[7].

There is of course the wider contextual issue of institutionalised social inequality at play, however charities can do a lot more to be inclusive and there are social as well as financial benefits of charities widening their scope. The inclusion of more BAME individuals occupying volunteer, employee, or trustee positions within charities provides young people from ethnic minority communities with positive role models. This is of utmost importance for an increasingly multicultural upcoming generation. Inclusive Boards, an agency that supports the third and public sector with their efforts to be more inclusive, is asking the government to set targets to double the number of BAME trustees to 12% by 2020. They argue that a significant proportion of service users of charities come from minority groups including ethnic backgrounds, therefore their representation within charities in the form of employees and volunteers, is key to their effective service provision[8].

Mahtani suggests that charities should be more aware of how cultural differences impact attitudes to giving. For example, he advises that Hindus can be superstitious about writing a will, therefore may be less likely to leave a gift in this way. He suggests that ethnic groups are likely to support a cause that is close to home. Statistics show that Afro-Caribbean and Asian people in Britain are more than twice as likely to suffer from diabetes then other groups. Mahtani suggests then that Diabetes UK, for example, should become more culturally appealing with their campaigns in order to target these groups for support.[9]

In order to engage with the potential support base, which are increasingly diverse, charities can be more creative. For example, celebrating, and campaigning around, festivals other than Christmas is one way to engage a wider audience, suggests Javed Khan, the chief executive of Barnardo’s[10]. In terms of making charities more appealing to volunteers or employees from BAME backgrounds, charity workplaces should be culturally flexible, for example with provisions for prayer or specialist food when necessary.

There are a number of charities and projects that are already implementing strategies to increase diverse engagement and involvement. For example, Oxfam has previously worked with Asian communities in order to fundraise for areas affected by flooding events in South Asia. In the early 2000’s, Oxfam ran a successful marketing campaign in Leicester, targeting the large Asian community there. More recently, Prostate Cancer UK has launched a campaign to raise awareness of the fact that black men are twice as likely to get prostate cancer as other men. Whilst this campaign is primarily aimed at raising awareness of the health issue amongst those who are more likely to suffer, it is also a way of more generally engaging the black community with the work of the charity[11]

The social enterprise, Ujima Radio’s ‘Green and Black’ campaign in Bristol is another great example. The initiative was launched in response to Bristol becoming the European Green capital in 2015, in order to better engage the Black population with environmentalism and conservation. The radio station is attempting to “blast the jargon” traditionally used to talk about climate change, and ensure that the Green Capital initiative is accessible and made applicable to all members of Bristol’s multi-racial community[12].

When addressing the need to be more inclusive and diverse, charities must recognise the complex heterogeneity of BAME populations, and become more culturally knowledgeable, flexible and creative in their approach. The answer to inclusion may not be easy, but it is certainly worth the effort.

What do you think? Share your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below


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