By Shaun Gallagher

December 11, 2020

This article originally appeared on TMJ4 Milwaukee.

MILWAUKEE — While leaders of nonprofits are certainly dedicated to a worthy cause, gaps in financial literacy are leading to growing racial disparities among leadership in the groups.

“The main purpose is to empower those nonprofit organizations led by people of color to better equip them to overcome some of the barriers they run up against throughout the years,” Darian Luckett, Director of Lending for Wisconsin and Iowa at IFF said. “To access the type of resources they need to grow and to access fair capital.”

Luckett says IFF serves nonprofit leaders of color in Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan. One of which is right here in Milwaukee.

“When it comes to many of our nonprofit leaders, many of us come to this with a passion to improve the community,” Keith Stanley, Executive Director of Near Westside Partners said. “Most of us don’t have that financial background. We’re not accountants. Some of us even struggled in college when it comes to that.”

Stanley is nearing the end of his six-month course with IFF. It’s helped him understand some of the intricacies of the finances nonprofits face.

IFF focuses on leaders of color because they face a disparity in financial literacy. A George Washington University study says African Americans answered 38 percent of financial literacy questions correctly, compared to 55 percent of white adults.

That was dealing with personal finances. Stanley says it’s much different when you add a few more commas to a budget dealing with hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.

“How paperwork works, financial statements and how to read them,” Stanley said. “IFF is doing an excellent job bringing together people from across the country to understand what paperwork looks like. What does it mean for an organization when we need to do more fundraising? When there is a deficit, when we have an overage, what does that look like? Budgeting, what does that look like? All of that stuff is important for us because, as we continue to grow, to help solve some of the many unique problems and challenges we have in the City of Milwaukee, we can grow and our funders and community are confident in the work we’re doing.”

It allows Stanley to focus on the work he’s passionate about instead of being bogged down by the numbers. He’s able to better communicate with the folks in accounting and bookkeeping so he spends less time on that and more time on doing good in the community.

“We’re able to speak the same language,” Stanley said. “Once we’re able to speak the same language, it makes it easier, more efficient and effective for us to run through the program to get things done with the nonprofit.”

Friday, Stanley was overlooking the installation of hundreds of “Near Westside” light pole banners. Even through the pouring rain, with near-freezing temperatures, he’s smiling under his mask knowing he can focus on this rather than crunching numbers.

“That lifts a burden off of our leaders and says, ok, at least I have someone listening to me,” Stanley said. “They understand, I may not know all of this information I need to know but, more importantly, I’m willing to learn and they’re willing to take an investment in us so we can learn and we can grow that talent pool in the City of Milwaukee.”

This hurdle is one of the factors there are few people of color in leadership roles within nonprofits. A recent study by the Building Movement Project says 45 percent of those surveyed in nonprofits say fewer than 25 percent of leadership roles are filled by people of color.

“If you come from a background where it was challenging to pay bills, challenging to take care of household financials, you look at finances differently,” Stanley said. “It becomes more of a hindrance and more of a concern instead of embracing it as a way to fulfill your mission.”

Stanley’s attitude about finances has shifted as a result of the help from IFF.

“It’s about gaining access,” Luckett said. “With the Stronger Nonprofit Initiative, it’s making sure that we can provide access to some of the resources that they may not have a chance to come in contact with.”

By providing an avenue towards achieving his mission, Stanley believes more people of color will feel confident in pursuing leadership roles within nonprofits.

Something that the entire city will benefit from.

“It’s so important we continue to train people who represent and who look like the communities they serve,” Stanley said. “The more we train people that look like the communities they serve, the better we’ll be as a city.”

For more information on how IFF can help through the Stronger Nonprofit Initiative, visit their website.