Assets of the largest U.S. foundations are still managed predominantly by white men, according to a study released Thursday by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The study — "Knight Diversity of Asset Managers in Philanthropy" — did find some progress being made since a previous study in 2020.
The 30 foundations participating in the latest study reported 16.6% of $67 billion in U.S.-based investment assets managed by firms owned by women and minorities. That compares with 13.5% in the 2020 study. Overall, the 30 foundations have $166 billion collectively.
In addition for the $67 billion in philanthropic assets analyzed, 10% is invested with firms owned by people of color and 9.3% is invested with firms owned by women.
The numbers are slowly climbing, with 25 foundations increasing those investments by $1.4 billion, an increase of just 1 percentage point.
"There is movement happening, but it could be better. We are seeing a bigger number and it being broader across the industry," said Juan J. Martinez, Knight Foundation chief financial officer and treasurer, in an interview. "Our hope is that studies like the one we just published continue to shine a light on this area."
Four foundations — Casey Family Programs, Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Tulsa Community Foundation/George Kaiser Family Foundation, and Knight — did better than 16.6%, investing more than 34% of their assets with diverse-owned firms.
For the $2.7 billion Knight Foundation, more than $960 million is invested in firms owned by women or minorities, with 46% women- and 53% diverse male-owned.
The study conducted by Global Economics Group also found that the top foundations are doing better than the financial industry overall, where only 1.3% of assets are invested with firms owned by women and people of color.
The 2021 study included five new foundations and overall participation was higher. Of the top 55 foundations, 14 either declined to participate or did not respond.
A statement from the Gates Foundation Trust, which did participate, called the study "deeply flawed" in part because it manages much internally, with a diverse team, while the external managers "represent a meaningful share of our assets."
The Gates Foundation Trust also criticized the use of Form 990s for the data because they disclose assets by holding, not by specific fund manager.
Mr. Martinez said greater transparency from foundations is welcome.
"We are trying to provide as much opportunity for folks to talk about their approach," he said.
Robert Raben, executive director and founder of the Diverse Asset Managers Initiative in a separate statement, called the Knight Foundation work on diversity in investing "game-changing," adding that transparency "is the gateway to identifying the root causes of systemic discrimination, and improving performance by working with all the talent that's out there."