Why Race and Leadership?


Written by Frances Kunreuther

We have been overwhelmed by the positive response to the Nonprofits, Leadership, and Race survey. Over 2,500 surveys have been completed, representing all 50 states except Wyoming and North Dakota (we’re working on it!).  We hope you will fill out the survey and keep sharing the link – bit.ly/BMPRaceSurvey –  with your nonprofit friends/networks.

The idea for the survey illustrates how we operate at the Building Movement Project. Almost two years ago, we were meeting with our team of advisors and raised a question: Should we still be doing work on generational shifts in nonprofit leadership? We began exploring multi- / cross-generational issues in 2000.  We had written a book, done countless trainings, and had continued to publish reports including those related to the Leadership in Leaving. Over the past 15 years, many other researchers and consultants also took up this issue and there were very good resources available everywhere. So, did it make sense for us to continue in this field? It was then that Aurea Montes-Rodriquez from the Community Coalition responded that she was noticing something different related to nonprofit leadership in South Los Angeles: that there seemed to be more white nonprofit leaders and fewer leaders of color. Linda Campbell noted the same trend in Detroit. It was at that moment that Sean and I realized we needed to more fully investigate issues of leadership and race in nonprofits.

Of course, all of our leadership work had included a race analysis, but we were interested in putting that analysis at the center of our leadership work. So we started with a literature review and found that some groups had certainly been raising these issues. For example, from the Daring to Lead reports we had some figures and the Leadership Learning Community had distributed Leadership & Race: How to Develop and Support Leadership that Contributes to Racial Justice. There was a lot more though to learn to address what Aurea and Linda had raised: Why aren’t there more nonprofit leaders of color?

We started with the survey which was informed by over two-dozen interviews we conducted with some of the nonprofits leaders and experts; we are grateful for their insights. The survey design (tested and retested….) is meant to ask questions we can disaggregate by race, gender/gender identity and a host of other variables. Those questions are focused on leadership/leadership training and on the respondent’s views on race.

We are not sure what we will find. But we know we will be going back to our team – and to many other communities – to hear their responses and interpretations once the findings come in. Let us know if you want to be included; it takes a village to make sense of all the data and develop strategies to address these tough issues.

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