Despite extensive diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that have raised awareness of structural racism, the nonprofit sector has seen relatively little change, and its leadership still does not accurately represent the country’s racial and ethnic diversity. Recent findings document that although more nonprofits have board members of color than observed in previous national studies, progress lags at the leadership level.

Specifically, the study, which consisted of a nationally representative sample of 501(c)(3) public charities with $50,000 or more in annual expenses, found the following:

  • Seventy-nine percent of board chairs and executive directors are non-Latinx white. This share contrasts with the general population, which is 60 percent non-Latinx white, and with the overall nonprofit workforce, which was 68 percent non-Latinx white in 2020.
  • Fifty-eight percent of rural nonprofits have no board members who are people of color. Although rural America is less diverse than the nation as a whole, two-thirds of rural counties consisted of at least 10 percent people of color, one-third were over a quarter people of color, and 10 percent were majority people of color in 2020.
  • All-white boards govern 16 percent of nonprofits that primarily focus on serving people of color and 38 percent of organizations that do not primarily focus on people of color.

Without greater emphasis and focus on increasing the diversity of nonprofit leadership, little progress will be made, especially at the board level. Recruiting and retaining racially and ethnically diverse staff and board leaders is a long-term organizational commitment that should focus not only on people’s individual characteristics but also on overcoming systemic bias within the sector. To successfully recruit and retain racially and ethnically diverse leaders, nonprofits can pursue the following:

  • Set a goal that the organization’s leadership will reflect the racial demographics of the population served.
  • Develop a long-term plan for the organization that includes recruiting diverse staff, providing them (and all rising staff members) with tools for professional development, and offering opportunities to build and demonstrate leadership skills in the external community and internally with other staff and members of the board.
  • Be willing to listen to the observations and recommendations of staff and board members of color and to change the organization’s policies and practices accordingly.
  • Look outside comfortable, established board networks to identify potential new board members.
  • Invest in board training and education to build solidarity, reinforce constructive governance styles, and increase understanding of the organization and its mission.

Read the full article about nonprofit leadership by Faith Mitchell at Urban Institute.