Why Aren’t There More Nonprofit Leaders of Color?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Why Aren’t There More Nonprofit Leaders of Color?
by Frances Kunreuther, Co-Director Building Movement Project

On March 1, the Building Movement Project launched the 2016 Nonprofits, Race and Leadership Survey, open to all nonprofit staff and board members. The goal of the survey is to gather information about race, leadership and experiences with training and support.  We have been overwhelmed by the positive response – more than 3,080 surveys have been completed, representing all 50 states. 

The idea for the survey illustrates how the Building Movement Project operates. Almost two years ago, we were meeting with our team of advisors and raised a question: Should we still be doing work on generational shifts in nonprofit leadership? We had begun exploring cross-generational issues in 2000.  We had written a book, facilitated countless trainings and had continued to publish reports including those related to Leadership in Leaving. Moreover, in the past 15 years, many other researchers and consultants also tackled this issue and there were very good resources available everywhere.

At roughly the same time, we began discovering a more robust conversation among executive directors of color at partner organizations across the country around the particular barriers presented by funding. This issue, combined with the general observations from our networks about the declining leadership of people of color in communities of color, convinced us that there were some particular racial differences within the sector that merited more focused research.

Our leadership work has always included a race analysis, but we were interested in putting that analysis at the center. So we started with a literature review and found that some groups had certainly been raising these issues: Daring to Lead and the Leadership Learning Community ‘s Leadership & Race: How to Develop and Support Leadership that Contributes to Racial Justice.

As the research piled up, the question became more pressing: Why aren’t there more nonprofit leaders of color?

To begin answering this question, we conducted more than two-dozen interviews with leaders and experts in the field; we are grateful for their insights. Informed by those interviews, we then designed and tested the survey which is meant to ask questions we can disaggregate by race, gender, gender identity and a host of other variables. Those questions are focused on leadership/leadership training and on the respondents’ views on race.

Once we close the survey on May 15, we will begin analyzing the data and plan on releasing a report of our findings in the fall of 2017. These reports are an essential part of our work and are available for free download on our website.

We are not sure what we will find. But we do know we have a lot of listening and learning to do if we want to make a valuable contribution to moving the needle on the issue of racial diversity in nonprofit leadership.

As valuable partners in this effort, we invite you to share the survey link with your colleagues in philanthropy, and with the organizations you support, fund, and work for. Only together can we shed light on this important issue and generate the data and tools to build a nonprofit sector that is more representative, inclusive, and diverse.

The Building Movement Project is committed to advancing the role nonprofit organizations have in building movements for progressive social change. For more than a decade, we have helped organizations align their principles with their operating practices by offering practical resources and training.

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