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Lately, the news has been riddled with mentions of implicit bias and its role in philanthropy. To industry veterans, the topic is unsurprising. It is one that has been tackled time and time again in an effort to correct any problems resulting from the phenomena. Those new to philanthropy, however, probably have a few more questions. Let’s take a look at implicit bias and the problems it poses to philanthropy.

What is Implicit Bias?

Implicit biases are any beliefs, attitudes, or stereotypes that unconsciously impact the way we act or understand. A critical aspect of implicit bias is that we are often unaware that it exists. It is important to understand that everyone has implicit biases. It’s impossible not to. We begin developing them at a very early age and they are extremely malleable. Perhaps most confusing, however, is that implicit biases do not necessarily have to align with our conscious beliefs and/or actions.

It is because these biases are so difficult to identify that they are also so problematic when it comes to philanthropy. How can we correct an issue we barely know we have?

Examples of Implicit Bias in Philanthropy.

Research and studies alike have shown that organizations led by minority groups or women receive a significantly small percentage of donations compared to those led by majority groups or men.

This fact is particularly troublesome when you consider the “high needs” often associated with minority communities. One study found that “less than 5 percent of the charitable donations from more than 72,000 foundations are granted to communities of color” and “funding pertaining to Native American causes and concerns remains among the lowest, amounting to less than 1 percent of total giving.”

Another example of implicit bias in play is the seriously low numbers of nonprofit institutions of a size great enough to inspire meaningful impact for the poor. Sure, there are plenty small to mid-sized groups that serve this purpose, but they often encounter difficulties accomplishing their missions. They struggle to meet operating costs because of implicit biases in giving and any grant money they receive often comes with use restrictions, making it hard for the nonprofit to impact their environment effectively.

How Can We Correct Implicit Bias in Philanthropy?

Many philanthropists have tried to address this question in years past with varying degrees of success. A massive influx in the availability of data and technology, however, has industry enthusiasts taking yet another look at possible solutions.

Big data and technology are granting us the power to not only prove our implicit biases, but to visualize them in such a way that we can effectively identify the problem areas. We will be able to tell which groups are being neglected just by taking a look at the numbers.

Incorporating data-driven analytics into philanthropic foundations and nonprofits is the first step in correcting implicit biases we’ve previously been unable to identify with certainty. Only when we can indisputably see what we’ve been neglecting can we take steps to reverse our predispositions.