Many of New York City’s community development corporations are still run today by founding staff who have grown their organizations into large, complex ventures, spanning affordable housing development, service provision, and advocacy. As the current leaders approach retirement in the coming years, we must ensure that future leaders are prepared to take the helm.
In 1967, the first community development corporation was launched in Brooklyn, New York by the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. CDCs sought to revitalize and stabilize distressed neighborhoods and ensure that resources flowed to under resourced communities. They would, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it, “get the market to do what the bureaucracy cannot.” In the ensuing decades, CDCs emerged around the country, helping communities combat disinvestment, population loss and discriminatory redlining.
Today, CDCs are more important than ever, providing services like job training, healthcare and education, developing affordable housing, and advocating for their communities.The next generation of nonprofit leaders will inherit some of the most difficult conditions facing communities in decades. Budget cuts and funding uncertainties, particularly at the federal level, mean CDCs will have to get creative in order to serve a growing number of low-income and vulnerable people. In New York City alone, more than 60,000 people are homeless, including 15,000 families and nearly 24,000 children, some of the highest levels since the Great Depression.
CDCs are in the midst of fighting for neighborhoods - places where many long-time residents are facing displacement. It’s no secret that there is a long way to go. On top of this, nonprofit CDCs are perpetually stretched thin in terms of capacity and resources and often they are not able to provide sufficient leadership development internally.
Fostering diverse leaders who understand the challenges facing their communities and who can run an organization should be a top priority. The new generation of leaders at CDCs must be diverse and represent the communities they will serve. They must know how to manage large affordable housing portfolios and have expertise in running a complex nonprofit organization with extensive demands including fundraising, government audits, human resources, and information technology.
As longtime leaders begin to transition out, local nonprofits can also capitalize on the opportunity to increase diversity and support leaders from the community in top leadership roles and, in doing so, be more representative of the communities in which they work.
"The next generation of nonprofit leaders will inherit some of the most difficult conditions facing communities in decades."
Less than 20 percent of nonprofit CEOs are people of color, a statistic that has remained largely unchanged for many years. But the next generation is motivated to step up. In a survey of 4,000 nonprofit professionals, the Building Movement Project found that a higher percentage of people of color aspire to be nonprofit leaders than their white peers. Further, the respondents of color had the same qualifications, background, and skills as white respondents, but subconscious biases and a lack of representation at the executive level served to perpetuate the status quo throughout their careers.
CDC professionals need career development resources and strong networks to foster their leadership, whether in local community-based organizations or large national nonprofits. Nonprofits and funders have successfully collaborated for decades on programs that serve communities. Now they must extend that same collaboration to programs that develop the leaders who will carry on this work.
One example is the Enterprise Leadership Institute, a new 18-month program created by Enterprise Community Partners and JPMorgan Chase that helps senior-level professionals build their capacity not only to advance their careers, but specifically to lead housing-focused nonprofits. In April, the program will select nearly 20 aspiring leaders and help prepare them to operate and grow housing organizations, connecting them to one-on-one coaching, trainings, and a network of funders and CDC leaders. Each participant will create an individual development plan specific to their background and goals that will give them the experience and ability to meet the needs of their communities.
This intentional focus on leadership development will elevate and cultivate diverse leaders who truly understand the challenges facing communities and the skills needed to advocate for resources that meet the needs of their constituency.
Just as they create and support programs that directly impact communities, funding organizations and nonprofits should develop leadership training programs that prepare the next generation of professionals to carry out this essential work. With well-trained, diverse, and knowledgeable leaders, CDCs will remain protectors and advocates for vulnerable neighborhoods, not only in New York but across the country.