Philanthropies Offer New Toolkit for Fair-Chance Hiring of People with Records

A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Workplace Diversity and Inclusion a Reality

New York, NY—Foundations and other employers committed to diversity and inclusion in the workplace have a vital new resource to help rethink and shape their hiring policies regarding people with arrests or convictions in their past.

The new toolkit—Fair-Chance Hiring in Philanthropy—is a step-by-step guide for foundations and other employers on how best to implement hiring policies that don’t unfairly shut the door on qualified applicants solely because of the stigma of a conviction or arrest. The toolkit provides a practical guide at a time when many foundations are recognizing the need to improve the sector’s efforts to advance diversity and racial equity in their hiring and in their grantmaking.

The toolkit is the latest from the “Ban the Box” Philanthropy Challenge, an initiative launched earlier this year by the Executives’ Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, which is a philanthropic network committed to improving outcomes for boys and men of color, their families, and their communities.

“The guidance provided here is a tremendous asset for philanthropy, but I hope other sectors take note of this important toolkit,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “As we develop our hiring practices to reflect our social justice mission, beginning with an internship program with Bard Prison Initiative, the entire foundation is already benefitting immensely from our new colleagues’ contributions. Their perspectives strengthen our day-to-day work and our mission as a whole.”

Forty-seven foundations—including the Ford Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and many other prominent philanthropies—have taken up the Challenge thus far and urged their colleagues at other institutions to do the same. Participating foundations have eliminated questions regarding convictions or arrests from their application materials and/or have adopted other “fair chance” hiring policies or practices.

“More than five million children in the United States have a parent who was incarcerated at some point in their lives,” said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “As a foundation committed to improving the lives of the most disadvantaged children, we believe it is critical that formerly incarcerated individuals, especially those who are parents, have access to employment so they can get on track and have the financial resources to support their children.”
A joint project of the Executives’ Alliance, the National Employment Law Project (NELP), and the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People & Families Movement (FICPFM), the toolkit builds upon the work and expertise of people directly impacted by mass incarceration and structural discrimination, and incorporates the invaluable input of formerly incarcerated individuals, foundation human resource professionals, and employment law experts.

“We believe in opportunity for all, and we’ve seen the evidence that the nation benefits when we all have a fair shot at jobs,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “With this toolkit, we as employers can move from supporting fair hiring to making it happen.”

The toolkit elevates the Ban-the-Box Philanthropy Challenge to the next level of implementation, detailing the practical steps necessary for the foundation community, their grantees, and their contractors to fully embrace fair-chance hiring at all levels of staff responsibility and leadership. Components from some of the strongest fair-chance hiring laws in the country are featured in the toolkit, which distills its recommendations into seven steps:

  1. Create a fair-chance culture in your foundation
  2. Develop skills-based job announcements
  3. Recruit and hire at all levels of responsibility and leadership
  4. Eliminate or delay inquiries into conviction history
  5. Limit the use and scope of background checks
  6. Provide notice and opportunity to respond to background-check results
  7. Establish clear goals, audit outcomes, and innovate

“We are thrilled to see so many foundation presidents committed to not only following the law and best practices, but to also to going beyond compliance to achieve meaningful results,” said Damon Hewitt, executive director of the Executives’ Alliance. “Through their vocal leadership, foundation presidents can establish fair-chance hiring as a new standard throughout the philanthropic sector, while also supporting the important work of their grantee partners who have worked to make America’s workplaces more open and accessible to all.”

The ban-the-box movement has gained enormous momentum in recent years. The movement was started by formerly incarcerated people more than a decade ago; it has since won policy victories in 24 states and more than 150 localities. Companies in the private sector are adopting ban-the-box policies as well, with employers such as Starbucks, Facebook, and Target leading the way. President Obama also took action to move toward banning the box in the federal government’s hiring process, as part of his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.

“This important toolkit and act of leadership by so many institutions of philanthropy should serve as an invitation for other employers across America to create pathways to opportunity for formerly incarcerated jobseekers,” said Glenn E. Martin, president of JustLeadershipUSA and board member of the Formerly Incarcerated, Convicted People and Families Movement. “Here is an opportunity for employers, both small and large, to identify qualified employees and simultaneously repair decades of harm caused by a criminal justice system that has created an entire underclass of citizenship in America.”

The need for action is urgent. More than 70 million Americans—nearly one in three adults—have arrest or conviction records that can show up in background checks, reducing the likelihood of a callback interview for an entry-level job by 50 percent. This takes a particularly heavy toll on communities of color, especially men of color who are disproportionately impacted by mass incarceration.

“The dozens of foundations that have accepted the Challenge have stepped up and are leading the way by example,” said Michelle Natividad Rodriguez, senior staff attorney with the National Employment Law Project. “This toolkit shows how foundations can take that commitment to fair-chance hiring and make it real. Philanthropic institutions have to be willing to identify the biases in their culture and hiring process, and take steps to root those out biases. This toolkit walks people through that, step by step.”

Fair-Chance Hiring in Philanthropy: A Step-by-Step Guide [PDF]

Get the newsletter