Race to Lead

Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap

Sean Thomas-Breitfeld and Frances Kunreuther

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The nonprofit sector is experiencing a racial leadership gap. Studies show the percentage of people of color in the executive director/CEO role has remained under 20% for the last 15 years1 even as the country becomes more diverse.

To understand the causes of this disparity, the Building Movement Project conducted the Nonprofits, Leadership, and Race survey with over 4,000 respondents. The study found few differences between white and people of color (POC) respondents in their aspirations or preparation for leadership roles—in fact people of color are more likely to be interested in becoming a nonprofit leader than whites. Survey respondents identified Boards of Directors and executive recruiters as key barriers to the hiring of more people of color executive directors/CEOs.

The results call into question the common assumption that to increase the diversityof nonprofit leaders, people of color need more training. The findings point to a new narrative. To increase the number of people of color leaders, the nonprofit sector needs to address the practices and biases of those governing nonprofit organizations. Rather than focus on the perceived deficits of potential leaders of color, the sector should concentrate on educating nonprofit decision-makers on the issues of race equity and implicit bias accompanied by changes in action leading to measurable results. This transfers the responsibility for the racial leadership gap from those who are targeted (people of color) to those who oversee organizations as well as the sector overall, which needs to embrace systems change work to ensure that its policies, practices, and culture are aligned with the values of diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Source: Report Introduction