June 6, 2019

This article was originally published on Candid's Philanthropy News Digest.

While nonprofit executives often face work-related challenges unrelated to race, in many cases those pressures and frustrations are compounded by race/ethnicity and other aspects of identity, a report from the Building Movement Project finds.

Based on a subset of data from a 2016 Race to Lead survey and a 2018 follow-up survey, as well as focus groups and interviews with nonprofit CEOs and executive directors of color, the report, Nonprofit Executives and the Racial Leadership Gap: A Race to Lead Brief (16 pages, PDF), found that executives of color reported leadership challenges and frustrations such as being called on to represent a community, inadequate compensation, lack of relationships with funding sources, lack of social capital, and lack of role models at higher rates than their white peers. In focus groups and interviews, leaders of color, especially women, also mentioned the pressures of their workload resulting in negative health outcomes.

According to the report, leaders of color, on average, had smaller budgets to work with and were more likely to report lack of access to and challenges securing financial support from a variety of funding sources than did white leaders, including fundraising by board members (72 percent vs. 64 percent), support from individual donors (63 percent vs. 49 percent), and support from foundations (51 percent vs. 41 percent). The follow-up survey also found that foundation grants were often the largest source of funding for nonprofits led by executives of color, whereas white-led organizations often benefited from more diversified funding sources, including government contracts, individual donors, and fees-for-service.

In addition, the report found that executives of color were more likely to agree "somewhat" or "strongly" than white respondents that "predominantly white boards often don't support the leadership potential of staff of color" (68 percent vs. 53 percent). While similar percentages of executives of color and their white peers said they believed their organizations paid attention to racial/ethnic diversity in developing and promoting staff, developing external communications strategies, planning and prioritizing program work, and recruiting board members and staff, both white staff members and those of color were less likely than executives to say so. And while similar percentages of leaders of color and white leaders reported incorporating topics such as implicit bias, structural racism, and white privilege into organizational trainings, 50 percent and 40 percent also agreed with the statement that "nonprofits trying to address race and race equity in their organizations often create tensions that they are not equipped to resolve."

The report further noted that executive leaders of color are concentrated in identity-based organizations and suggested that funders may need to change or expand the types of organizations they fund in order to support nonprofit leaders of color. "For the nonprofit sector to achieve more diverse leadership," the report's authors conclude, "it must not only commit to increasing the number of leaders of color, but also to more effectively supporting those who reach executive roles."

"Building Movement Project Releases Report on CEOs in Nonprofits." Building Movement Project Press Release 05/28/2019.

"Nonprofit Executives and the Racial Leadership Gap: A Race to Lead Brief." Building Movement Project Report 05/28/2019.