Our society needs nonprofits. They pick up where government resources drop off, or are absent to begin with. Nonprofits are innovating solutions to our biggest challenges every day and the pandemic has highlighted the absolutely critical role that these institutions play. 

The need to increase philanthropic investments in racial equity and leadership development in the social sector is urgent. High performance at the leadership level is a determining factor in any organization’s success. Leadership matters, and representative leadership matters. When leaders have the skills, knowledge, resources, and networks they need, they can succeed. And when leadership succeeds, organizations can ensure the dollars invested in their work are leveraged for greater community impact. 

So, why do we chronically underinvest in leadership development in the sector, despite our reliance on nonprofits to address the most urgent issues of our time? A recent McKinsey study reported that, over more than 20 years, only 1% of philanthropic dollars went to nonprofit leadership development. But in the private sector, investment in professional development for leaders and rising talent is prioritized and is substantial. Compared to nonprofits, for-profits spend about 4x more per employee to ensure their leaders have the skills they need to perform. The nonprofit sector is the third largest employer in the United States, but we have yet to commit to prioritizing the needed investments in its leaders and the capacity building of their teams and organizations. This is especially true for BIPOC-led (Black, Indigenous, people of color) nonprofits which tend to be even less philanthropically resourced

At the Institute for Nonprofit Practice (INP), we envision a world in which society’s most complex problems are solved by our most talented people. Knowing that talent is equally distributed across race, and seeing that solutions derived from communities and not for communities are almost always most effective, we catalyze social change by equipping diverse groups of leaders with the networks, tools, and practices they need to meet their missions and build a more equitable future for all. 

Through a curriculum that includes financial management, strategic marketing, fundraising, and adaptive leadership -- all of which integrate a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging lens -- we’ve trained thousands of leaders (the majority of whom are BIPOC and women) to develop their ability to align vision, strategy and culture, build high-performing teams, and make data-informed decisions about key issues in an ever-changing environment. As an INP alumna, I understand first-hand the need for equity-focused, accessible professional development and the power that meaningful network building can yield for leaders and their organizations. 

Nonprofit leaders are paving the way forward in post-pandemic recovery and in organizing efforts for justice. They aren’t returning to “business as usual” - nor should they. Leaders like INP alums Yi-Chin Chen and Jen Faigel are breaking down silos and charting new paths for even greater community change. Chen expanded the programming of the student mentoring organization Friends of the Children-Boston, creating a two generational program model. She also partnered with Commonwealth Kitchen’s Jen Faigel who launched Common Table to provide food for kids and their families while keeping local food businesses operating. Alumni Luisa Pea Lyons and Elsa Gomes Bondlow recently teamed up and started the Social Access Equity Fund. The fund was founded to quickly and equitably direct financial support to those who need it most. All these leaders pivoted to meet the moment, enhancing their organizations’ impact, and strengthening their communities. 

Behind our most innovative, disruptive social solutions are talented and passionate leaders. We need to ask ourselves, when we turn to them to confront the oppressive systems that are literally killing us, or to lead on climate change solutions, or the next pandemic: Have we given them what they need - the tools, resources, networks, community of support, social capital, and training - to succeed? Imagine what would be possible if we did. 

Don’t wait to be asked. Offer your grantees support for leadership training and capacity building, without sacrificing the dollars they are counting on for their programs. And don’t stop at the executive level; help organizations build their bench so they can sustain their progress. We are all counting on nonprofits. So, let’s give them all they need to get their jobs done. 

Some ways to get involved:

  • Support: In addition to supporting INP, consider supporting leadership development organizations both at the national and local levels. If access to such programs is absent in your community, contact us and we can help you explore options.
  • Learn: Connect with organizations researching nonprofit trends and capacity building needs like Fund the People, Independent Sector, TSNE Missionworks, your local nonprofit association, the Center for Effective Philanthropy, or the National Council of Nonprofits
  • Share: Leverage your own social capital for others. Open doors and make connections to your own networks for nonprofit leaders, in particular BIPOC leaders.  


Original contribution by Yolanda Coentro, President and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit Practice.