Written by Megha Patel
On April 2nd, Building Movement Project (BMP) co-directors Sean Thomas-Breitfeld and Frances Kunreuther presented the most recent installment of the Race to Lead report series at The Boston Foundation, returning to the community foundation that hosted their first Race to Lead forum almost a year ago. While BMP’s first Race to Lead event at The Boston Foundation focused on national survey data related to the nonprofit racial leadership gap, this week’s presentation and panel discussion focused on responses from the Bay State, captured in the new report The Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap in Massachusetts: A Race to Lead Brief.
Key points from the report include:
- Aspiring leaders of color face obstacles ranging from lack of mentors to little encouragement to move up within their organizations. However, they have developed skills and found advisors outside of their jobs in order to continue to advance in their careers.
- Top leaders in nonprofits need to be able to raise funds from public sources, foundations and donors who often have little understanding of—or contact with—the communities of color they are trying to support. Current and aspiring leaders of color who have more connection to community needs are frequently excluded from networks and relationships of wealth. As a result, people of color may be overlooked by funders, even though they are the leaders who could most effectively drive investments in underserved communities.
- People of color seeking leadership positions experience barriers from white-dominated boards and executive recruiters based on assumptions about their skill levels and concerns about their ability to raise funds. Aspiring leaders of color are rarely offered the opportunities and supports needed to be successful in top leadership roles, despite the expertise and skills they bring.
After presenting these (and many more!) findings from the report, Sean and Frances facilitated a panel discussion with local leaders, designed to encourage the discussion of the racial leadership gap and help generate ideas for its correction. Panelists included Michael James, Senior VP of Human Resources at Old Colony YMCA, Imari K. Paris Jeffries, Executive Director of Parenting Journey, Jocelyn Sargent, Executive Director of the Hyams Foundation, Cassie Scarano, CEO & Co-Founder of Commongood Careers, and Celina Miranda, Executive Director of Hyde Square Task Force. They discussed the findings in the report and helped contextualize some of the patterns behind the data with stories of their own experiences working in Massachusetts’ nonprofit sector.
In particular, the panel focused on how to recruit and support people of color in nonprofits. Cassie talked about how executive search firms need be free of bias when searching for candidates and how managers can assert their own influence to diversify the hiring process. Jocelyn stressed that nonprofits have to insist that more people of color need to be included in the pool of qualified candidates. In terms of supporting people of color in their nonprofit careers, Celina highlighted that people of color often struggle to gain funding from donors. A person of color could have a brilliant idea, she explained, but struggle to attract funding because donors are more likely to fund leaders within their own communities rather than people of color.
The panel finished with a brief Q&A session, during which audience members were able to talk to the panelists about how to increase diversity in nonprofit organizations. One striking question was whether organizations and systems recognize lack of diversity as problem. The panelists concluded that current systems do not, but that solutions exist. Remembering why we value diversity and inclusion, having more tough conversations, and practicing methods that decrease the racial leadership gap in nonprofit organizations are all ways to move towards a more equitable sector.