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What do we know about LGBTQIA+ nonprofit leaders and staff? 

Staff from the Groundswell Action Fund.

As we celebrate Pride Month, we thought we’d take a closer look at what Candid’s The state of diversity in the U.S. nonprofit sector report, released in May, suggests about the representation and visibility of LGBTQIA+ individuals among nonprofit staff and leadership. 

Based on data shared by 59,550 U.S. public charities on their Candid profiles, the report analyzes the demographic composition of staff, leaders, and board members—in terms of race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and disability status. This article will highlight findings about LGBTQIA+ CEOs and staff, as well as share insights from nonprofit leaders. 

Nonprofit staff are less likely to share data on ‘sensitive’ identities

The report notes that nonprofit staff were less likely to share demographic information considered “sensitive” including sexual orientation, transgender identity, and disability status. Although most organizations provided at least some information about these identities, there is far more data about leaders than about overall staff. While the dataset includes sexual orientation information about 86.4% of CEOs, the sexual orientation of 86.3% of overall staff—and about 79% of all individuals—is reported as “decline to state” or “unknown.” Similarly, while 89% of CEOs specified whether they were transgender or cisgender, nearly three-quarters of all individuals selected “decline to state” or “unknown.” 

This is in part because many nonprofits don’t collect or share demographic information about their full staff, said Cathleen Clerkin, assistant vice president of research at Candid. For example, 19% don’t share any information about gender at the overall staff level. Still, the data raises the question of why many are reluctant to collect and/or share information about LGBTQIA+ and transgender identities. 

“It isn’t lost on us that trans and nonbinary people are underrepresented particularly at a time when we face discrimination, harmful rhetoric and policies, and risk of unemployment for showing up as their authentic selves,” said Transgender Law Center executive director Shelby Chestnut. “We need to question why three-quarters of respondents don’t share this information and what we can do as leaders to create and foster a space where all people show up, regardless of gender or orientation.” 

9% of nonprofit CEOs identify as LGBTQIA+ 

Among the tens of thousands of respondents who did provide sexual orientation data, Candid’s analyses suggest strong LGBTQIA+ representation across the nonprofit sector: about 9% of CEOs and 15% of overall staff. While this is a higher percentage than in the U.S. adult population at large—estimated at between 5% and 7%—it is fairly consistent with other recent estimates from CHANGE Philanthropy and Race to Lead, which range from 12% to 20%. At the same time, the data shows that there is less representation among senior staff, CEOs, and board members. 

Among those who provided information about transgender identity, nearly 2% of overall staff and roughly 1% of senior staff, CEOs, and board members identify as transgender. While the number is small, the existence of 164 organizations with openly transgender leaders can be interpreted as a sign of inclusion and progress, the report points out. 

In addition, 1% of overall staff and 1% of CEOs identify as nonbinary. The number of organizations with a nonbinary CEO, 260, is also a small but historic number, in that a few years ago nonbinary gender identities were rarely discussed or represented.  

Representation of LGBTQIA+ nonprofit leaders is consistent across organization sizes 

Unlike other identities the report examines—race/ethnicity, gender, and disability status—representation of LGBTQIA+ nonprofit leaders is relatively constant across expense sizes and revenue, ranging from 8% to 11%. There are significant differences in LGBTQIA+ representation among CEOs by subsector: higher in arts and culture (16%) and public and societal benefit organizations (13%), and lower in education, environment, human services (7% each) and religion (5%).  

“The higher representation of out LGBTQIA+ nonprofit leaders in the arts/culture and public benefit sectors can be attributed to the historical embrace of diversity and progressive advocacy within these fields,” said Groundswell Fund CEO Yamani Yansá Hernandez. “The arts have historically been a haven for LGBTQIA+ individuals, providing a platform for self-expression and exploration of identity. Sectors like education, environment, human services, and religion often face cultural and systemic barriers that limit inclusivity and discourage LGBTQIA+ leadership. This disparity highlights the need for more inclusive policies and a supportive climate in traditionally conservative sectors to enhance LGBTQIA+ representation in leadership roles.” 

Future research should explore LGBTQIA inclusion in the nonprofit sector

In light of the limited number of responses to questions about sexual orientation and transgender identity among overall nonprofit staff, the report notes that future research should further examine this pattern. 

“It’s extremely important that both nonprofits and individuals who work at them have the freedom to ‘decline to state’ information that they do not want to share,” said Clerkin. “The issue is less about collecting more data or insisting that people disclose this information, and more about creating a society where people are not afraid to collect or disclose this information.” 

“While we are seeing some strides toward more diversity in leadership across the nonprofit sector, these findings illustrate that we still have a long way to go,” said Joanne Meredith, vice president of community philanthropy at The Trevor Project. “This report should serve as a call to action for organizations across the country to step up their support for LGBTQ+ nonprofit leaders and staff at all levels, and focus on creating environments where everyone can feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work.” 

Photo credit: Groundswell Fund

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  • Cathleen Clerkin says:

    July 11, 2024 12:10 pm

    Hi Kris,

    Yes! We currently have intersectional data at the CEO level and have already done some intersectional analyses. In our first report, we limited intersectional analyses to male/female gender and white/BIPOC categories as they are the categories where our data is most complete and reliable. However, unpacking more nuanced intersectional analyses including within the LGBTQIA community is on our list for future analyses and reporting--especially as more folks share this data. We will be sure to share these analyses on Candid insights as we learn more!

  • Tavalamarri Nagamallu says:

    July 11, 2024 10:15 am

    Arunodaya youth association is working on Transgendar in Andhrapradesh state. India 🇮🇳
    Organization need grants for, transgendar lively hood. Organization have FCRA. CSR. 80G.

  • Kris Gowen says:

    July 11, 2024 8:57 am

    Thanks for this highlight! I am wondering if Candid will be doing an intersectional analysis of this data. Your large sample size provides a great opportunity to better understand the staffing of nonprofits.

  • Donna Williams says:

    July 11, 2024 8:51 am

    Great information. Thank you

  • Achini Bazil says:

    July 11, 2024 8:12 am

    Thanks for the insight on LGBTQ, unfortunately many of such people are seriously marginalized in my area, they leave in fear and isolation, it's important to up loud them about their rights