Disproportionately Affected

This month, we want to talk about the significant challenges faced by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) nonprofit leaders, especially those focused on difficult social justice issues. This topic is on our mind as we get ready to launch the Ready to Grow Peer Learning & Coaching Cohort, a cohort comprised of 25 BIPOC-led and serving nonprofits with revenues around or less than $1M.

In a powerful presentation/exhibit, OC Human Relations has curated Orange County’s unique role in the nation’s civil rights tragedies and triumphs.  From early violence against immigrant communities, institutionalized prejudice against immigrant students, and segregation of black residents, to more recent and disturbing efforts to protect biased policies and increases in hate crimes and hate groups, Orange County has been no stranger to inequity and prejudice.  But community leaders, brave individuals, and determined groups have also made huge strides toward equity, and contributed greatly to the civil rights progress of our nation.

Nonprofit organizations in Orange County that advocate for communities of color are critical to addressing these longstanding issues, and in creating a healthy, safe, and just society.  And leadership of these nonprofits is critical to their success.  But we must acknowledge we have a racial leadership gap in our sector. In 2017, Building Movement Project released a leadership report entitled “Race to Lead: Confronting the Racial Leadership Gap.” The report highlights that, even as the United States becomes increasingly diverse, the percentage of people of color in nonprofit executive director/CEO roles has remained under 20% for the last 15 years. A study respondent said, “One of the big problems in the nonprofit sector is that the leadership of nonprofit organizations doesn’t represent the racial/ethnic diversity of the country.”

We see a racial leadership gap at the nonprofit board level as well. The 2021 BoardSource Leading With Intent” report detailed that people of color comprise just 22% of nonprofit board members.

Nonprofit leaders of color also have a much harder time raising funds than their white counterparts. This 2020 report from Echoing Green and Bridgespan shows that race is a determining factor in where philanthropic funding lands. The report, “Racial Equity and Philanthropy: Disparities in Funding for Leaders of Color Leave Impact on the Table,” identified three main barriers for minority-led nonprofit organizations that seek foundation funding.

The first barrier is access; it is exceedingly difficult for a leader of color to tap into entrenched networks.

The second barrier deals with building rapport. Unconscious bias can enter when the funder and a potential grantee do not share similar experiences, which is quite often the case between a white foundation leader and a nonprofit leader of color.

The third barrier centers on measurement and evaluation – both topics and tools that foundation leaders are increasingly asking for and expecting. But measurement and evaluation are expensive, and when a nonprofit is working just to keep the lights on, these tools can be out of reach. Small, BIPOC led nonprofits are less likely to have the resources to pursue them.

Foundations do not set out to intentionally discriminate or to deny funding. However, many traditional funding practices are not inclusive, or do not incorporate listening to the communities they hope to serve.  It is encouraging to see that many foundations are grappling with these biases, but more can be done.

A recent significant challenge that BIPOC nonprofit leaders face is COVID. The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected nonprofits led by BIPOC individuals.  All nonprofits have struggled with COVID effects, but none more so than minority-led organizations. COVID-19 has only exacerbated existing needs and inequities caused by structural racism, poverty, and policies that discriminate against communities of color. Very much on the frontlines, BIPOC-led nonprofits are adapting to the COVID crisis with limited funds and resources, and this situation is taking its toll on the nonprofit leaders.

BIPOC nonprofit leaders deserve support, investment, access, and respect. Like the brave leaders before us, let’s work to build equity into a system that has historically lacked it.

Through our Ready to Grow Cohort, generously funded by the Wells Fargo Open for Business Fund, we aim to build equity and capacity for our local minority-led small nonprofits. We’ll be sure to share updates on this blog along the way, and we’ll definitely share evaluation results at the end of this nine-month program. Have a question or suggestion for us? Please email info@readytogrowoc.org.

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