Equipping nonprofits to advance social change

Building Movement Project Releases Report on CEOs in Nonprofits

For Immediate Release: May 28, 2019

For the nonprofit sector to achieve more diverse leadership, it must not only commit to increasing the number of leaders of color, but also to more effectively supporting those who reach executive roles.

(New York, NY) – The Building Movement Project (BMP) today released a new report, Nonprofit Executives and the Racial Leadership Gap: A Race to Lead Brief, which explores the gaps between executive leaders of color and white leaders and compares nonprofit executives to respondents in staff positions. While nonprofit executives often have difficult jobs regardless of their race, the challenges and burdens that may appear universal at first glance are often compounded by race and other features of identity. The survey data and insights shared through interviews and focus groups highlight key areas where the pressures of executive leadership seem to be amplified for people of color.

The results show four key issues related to the leadership of people of color in executive positions in the nonprofit sector:

  1. The Benefits of Being in Charge? The data shows that people of color in executive positions reported higher rates of common challenges and frustrations than white EDs/CEOs. When comparing the frustrations reported by EDs/CEOs and staff, white ED/CEOs were less likely than white staff to report experiencing these frustrations. But people of color in ED/CEO roles reported similar or higher levels of the frustrations compared to people of color in staff roles.
  2. The Burden of Sustainability: On average, leaders of color report smaller organizational budgets and more often report that they lack access to (and face challenges securing) financial support from a variety of funding sources. 
  3. The Challenge of Managing Up: Nonprofit EDs/CEOs of color report more challenges in their relationships with boards of directors when the boards are predominantly white.
  4. The Responsibility to Lead on Equity: Both EDs/CEOs of color and white leaders are taking similar steps to make their organizations more equitable, inclusive and diverse.

A Research Agenda to Support Leaders of Color Emerges…

The survey data, focus groups, and interviews that are the basis of this report have only scratched the surface of these issues, and point to a range of questions that merit more research on the nuances of leading in the nonprofit sector as a person of color.

  1. Does supporting the leadership of people of color require investing in different kinds of organizations?
  2. What should the role of nonprofit boards of directors be?
  3. What does it take for staff and boards to be led by a person of color who succeeds a white leader?

For more information, visit: racetolead.org/ceo/

Contact: Noelia Mann, nmann@buildingmovement.org

Leadership race Race Equity Race to Lead