October 29, 2020

This article originally appeared in Candid's Philanthropy News Digest.

While nonprofits in Massachusetts continue to make progress in promoting, retaining, and supporting leaders of color, that progress is slow and challenges remain, a report from the Building Movement Project finds.

Commissioned by the Boston Foundation and Barr Foundation and based on a subset of data from a national 2019 survey of nonprofit leaders and staff as well as focus groups, the report, The Burden of Bias in the Bay State: The Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap in Massachusetts (30 pages, PDF), found that 50 percent of nonprofit staff of color in Massachusetts said their race had been an obstacle to their career advancement, while 41 percent said they often or always faced a lack of advancement opportunities, compared with 4 percent and 27 percent of white respondents. Consistent with national trends, respondents of color also were more likely than their white colleagues to say that people of color have to demonstrate more skills than their white peers to advance (91 percent vs. 76 percent), that organizations seeking executives who are the "right fit" are more likely to rule out candidates of color (83 percent vs. 66 percent), and that their salary is inadequate (42 percent vs. 34 percent) or inequitable (31 percent vs. 17 percent) compared with their non-POC peers.

The report also found that respondents of color were more likely than their white peers to receive support from a mentor outside the organization (62 percent vs. 53 percent), less likely to have a mentor inside the organization (48 percent vs. 57 percent), more likely to report frustration and challenges with the lack of role models (45 percent vs. 20 percent) or of social capital or networks (30 percent vs. 13 percent), and more likely to agree that it is harder for people of color to advance because of their smaller networks (72 percent vs. 52 percent).

Similar percentages of respondents of color (29 percent) and their white colleagues (26 percent) also agreed that "issues of race and diversity in the nonprofit sector are so complicated it is not clear how to resolve them," that nonprofits trying to address race and race equity often create tensions they are not equipped to resolve (64 percent and 60 percent), and that one of the big problems in the nonprofit sector is that leadership does not represent the diversity of the country (94 percent and 91 percent). However, significantly more people of color (77 percent) than white respondents (62 percent) agreed that "we know how to improve DEI in the nonprofit sector, but decision makers do not have the will to make changes."

"While the findings in Massachusetts have improved since our last survey in 2016, the data and discussions illustrate an ongoing toll for aspiring and current leaders of color in Massachusetts nonprofits," said Building Movement Project co-director Sean Thomas-Breitfeld. "The number of leaders of color in Massachusetts nonprofit organizations is growing, but POC-led organizations are still undervalued and underfunded compared with white-led peers."