Giving Compass' Take:
- BIPOC nonprofit leaders don't feel supported enough by funders, specifically during times of leadership transition.
- What power dynamics do funders need to let go of in order to best support emerging BIPOC leaders?
- Read more on how philanthropy can better assist BIPOC leadership.
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Much has been written about the wave of incoming BIPOC leadership at nonprofits and about how philanthropy needs to better support these leaders. Yet, we continue to hear that BIPOC nonprofit leaders feel under-supported and overwhelmed in their new positions. Clearly, something isn’t working.
While the general sentiment is that funders want BIPOC leaders to succeed, especially leaders who come from the communities they serve, stories continue to emerge about how these leaders have been set up to fail. Incoming BIPOC leaders often face impatience from staff to quickly get up and running, sometimes while cleaning up an organization’s inherited financial or programmatic woes. Often an organization’s first leader of color, they are frequently expected to reverse a long history of entrenched racism while serving a majority-white board. Leaders try to accomplish these Herculean tasks with little time to settle into their roles and often with meager support, especially from anxious funders.
Many experts have offered sound—but insufficient—ideas for how philanthropy can do better: provide more flexible money, build longer on ramps for transition, and embrace succession planning and transition as normal parts of an organization’s life cycle—to name a few.
We believe the problem is deeper. Poor funder behavior during transitions—whether it’s pulling back support, micro-managing, or prescribing unhelpful “best practices”—is rampant in the philanthropic sector. This behavior leaves nonprofits, especially nonprofits run by BIPOC leaders, confused, weakened, and vulnerable. It jeopardizes organizations’ visions, needs, and critical work to uplift communities.
As a former nonprofit executive director who faced these challenges and a funder who works alongside grantees during such struggles, we’ve seen and experienced harmful philanthropic behavior firsthand. Funders need to fundamentally reimagine how they think about leadership transitions to make such occurrences more equitable, supportive, and transformative for organizations.
Funders must honestly explore and shift the impact of white-dominant power structures that define what leaders look like, how organizations are structured, and who holds power. Philanthropy holds a set of harmful assumptions that show up throughout the transition process in ways that are both painfully obvious and dangerously subtle.
Read the full article about BIPOC leadership by Cathy Dan and Liz Sak at Nonprofit Quarterly.