The Ally: July 2020 – Yousef Abu-Salah

Yousef Abu-Salah
Alliance Intern
Vanderbilt University

Youth Perspective: What We Want and Need from Nonprofits and Philanthropy

As a person of color, I have had many experiences with nonprofits who came to my community to provide aid. I grew up in some of the most impoverished communities in not only the state but also the world. While these organizations did contribute positively to the community, there was this apparent disconnect in who delivered the aid. It’s a painful experience to watch people from outside that look nothing like you, sound nothing like you, that know nothing about you, come to help you.

The problem starts at the top in terms of diversity within charitable organizations and general leadership roles among nonprofits. In all honesty, as a child, I did not believe that there were minorities capable of helping others, as I only saw white people helping us. That scenario sets an unfortunate precedent that can serve as a deterrent to people of color that would like to serve in the nonprofit world.

People from underserved areas often lack the skills, or access to them, to be able to start or lead a service organization. From my perspective, it is evident that it is more difficult for people of color to lead nonprofits, which could be due to funding disparities, insufficient preparation, or inequitable access to training.  We often find ourselves subjected to unconscious bias, which must be dealt with at a deeper level by service organizations and grantmakers in a transparent way.

In my view, there needs to be more interaction in the community from nonprofit and philanthropic leaders. For minorities, it is strange to receive assistance from a mysterious figure from a distant corporate palace. That doesn’t connect us with those who aid us, which creates an unnecessary distance and a lack of community engagement. Minorities need to see someone who looks like us, visibly helping and interacting with the community.

So many incredible organizations are doing great work; however, there needs to be more diversity present in the management and leadership of these organizations. Then, disadvantaged communities would be more likely to buy in and to benefit more from these programs. People need to see their peers succeed and to hold positions of power. Then a young person like myself would be encouraged to fully commit to change and to bring hope to my community.