Director of Grant Programming
Women’s Foundation of Mississippi
What Happens When People of Color Are Not in Leadership Roles
in Nonprofits and Philanthropies
Philanthropic organizations and nonprofits have come a long way since their inception. Within the last five years, it is has become commonplace to participate in sessions centering on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Lately, there has been a greater interest in amplifying voices of people of color in philanthropy. While diversity, equity, and inclusion now serve as standards within the nonprofit and philanthropic communities, their actual implementation amounts to lip service, as long as there are few people of color within the critical structure of the organization.
Over the last fifteen years, people of color occupying nonprofit leadership positions has remained flat at under 20 percent. Additionally, people of color in philanthropy are often subject to different standards than their white counterparts. People of color often face questions and doubts concerning their ability to lead and fundraise and have limited access to wealthy philanthropic circles. Many times, the person of color is the only connection the organization has to that specific group. The lack of diversity in service organizations, and in leadership positions, has a detrimental effect not only on the organization but also on the communities the organization serves.
Smaller nonprofits led by people of color are often funded at lower rates and have more difficulty securing unrestricted funds than their white counterparts. When fewer people of color hold leadership positions, decision making is less informed; therefore, less effective in their communities. For example, a local nonprofit was working on a new brand for the organization. The public branding materials featured a black woman as a single parent on welfare while featuring a white woman as a distinguished retired citizen. It took people of color, especially black female board members, having the agency to use their voices to bring attention to the bias in the branding materials.
Philanthropy, like America, has to examine itself. It can no longer shy away from the hard questions – and even harder answers – around race, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Philanthropic organizations have to be committed to doing the hard work of implementing better race-conscious practices. Supportive leadership development that advances people of color is also needed. When that happens, then the parental advice that was given to people of color; “You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have;” will cease to be necessary.