Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap

Do you work for a non-profit? Do you see a lack of diversity? If so, you are not alone. If you needed the data to make a decision or make bold changes at your non-profit or place of work. Well here it is.

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 years even as the country becomes more diverse.

To find out more, the Building Movement Project conducted the Nonprofits, Leadership, and Race survey. Over 4,000 respondents answered questions about their current nonprofit job, interest in leading a nonprofit, training/supports, views of leadership, and personal background. They were also asked about their views on race and the nonprofit sector. This report, the first in a series to be released over the next two years, will compare people of color and white respondents’ background, aspirations to be leaders, training, and attitudes towards leadership.

Based on the more than 4,000 responses to the Nonprofits, Leadership, and Race Survey, the data indicate that the key things to understand about the nonprofit racial leadership gap are:

› It’s NOT about Differences in Background or Qualifications: People of color and white respondents have similar backgrounds in education, position, salary, and years working in the nonprofit sector.

› It’s NOT about a Lack of Aspirations: People of color aspire to be leaders more than white respondents. For those who do not aspire to leadership, most—across race—are looking to maintain work/personal life balance. But people of color who are not aspiring leaders are more likely to be looking for jobs outside of the nonprofit sector.

› It’s NOT about Skills and Preparation: Most aspiring leaders thought they had the qualities needed to be a good leader. When asked about the training they received, people of color and whites had few differences in the areas of financial skills, goal setting, articulating a vision, advocacy and collaboration. People of color were more likely to see themselves as visionary and able to relate to their target population, but less ready to fundraise than whites.

› It IS an Uneven Playing Field: The majority of aspiring leaders feel prepared to take on an executive role. However, over a third reported they want more technical and management skills, with POC respondents identifying this need more often than whites. People of color were more likely than white respondents to see race/ethnicity as a barrier to their advancement.

› It IS the Frustration of “Representing”: All respondents have challenges, but people of color are significantly more frustrated by the stress of being called upon to represent a community. They are also more challenged by inadequate salaries, the need for role models, lack of social capital/networks, and the need for relationships with funding sources.

› It’s NOT Personal, It IS the System: Respondents across race squarely identify the lack of people of color in top leadership roles as a structural problem for the nonprofit sector. They believe that executive recruiters and boards could do more to diversify leadership. Whether due to bias or other factors, respondents of color were more likely than whites to agree it is harder for people of color to fundraise. They also were more likely than whites to see barriers to people of color advancing either because of smaller professional networks and/or the need for more training.