There is no shortage of highly talented leaders coming from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, and many of them lead from within the nonprofit sector. They do however face unique challenges, which are numerous and varied, reflecting the complex and evolving nature of the nonprofit sector as a whole.
This blog aims to examine these challenges and offer all nonprofits leaders methods to increase diversity and BIPOC participation in their organizations.
Understanding the challenges BIPOC leadership face in the nonprofit sector
One of the primary challenges BIPOC leaders face is limited access to funding.As we all know nonprofits rely on a combination of government grants, philanthropic donations, and earned income to support their operations. However, BIPOC-led organizations are at a statistical disadvantage when it comes to securing funding, particularly from philanthropic sources. This can make it difficult for their CEOs to sustain and grow their organization over the long term.
BIPOC-led nonprofits often face challenges in their efforts to reach and assist those who are most in need due to this economic shortfall. This can make it difficult to provide the services that are necessary to meet the needs of their mission.
Structural barriers to success
The nonprofit sector is highly competitive, with organizations often competing for the same limited resources. BIPOC leaders may face additional barriers to success, such as discrimination, bias, and lack of support from within the sector.
BIPOC communities are disproportionately impacted by social inequality, with higher rates of poverty and unemployment. This can make it difficult for BIPOC-led organizations to address the needs of their communities effectively, and can also limit their ability to attract and retain talented staff and volunteers.
Limited access to networks
Limited access to networks and social capital can make it difficult for individuals to connect with others who can help them advance in their careers and succeed in their endeavors.
Networking can be second nature to those raised in that environment, but completely alien to others. Networking is more common the higher up the social stratification you go (with clubs and industry breakfasts and lunches being commonplace) where like-minded individuals become used to making important connections.
Historical and cultural barriers
Historical and cultural barriers can also hinder social mobility for individuals from underserved communities as they may face prejudice and discrimination based on their cultural background. The long-term goal is that this declines as each new generation advances, but as we have seen in recent years, these deep rooted social ethnic divides are ingrained in western societies and hardwired into how our cultures function.
Lack of support and mentorship
A bit like building a social network, individuals from underserved communities may lack access to supportive mentors who can help guide them and provide advice on how to succeed in their chosen fields.
Mentorship is in many ways a mindset, and one which those from BIPOC communities are not regularly exposed to. The best schools drive home the need to access the wisdom and economic opportunities of those who have already carved out a successful career. This isn’t a way of thinking routinely instructed in underserved schools.
For those who are not fluent in English, language barriers can create additional challenges and make it difficult to access certain opportunities and succeed in certain fields.
For individuals who are not citizens, or who are not authorized to work in the US, their immigration status can create additional barriers to social mobility.
Stereotypes and biases
Stereotypes and biases against individuals from underserved communities can also hinder their social mobility as they may face discrimination and prejudice in various aspects of their lives.
Limited representation in leadership roles
Despite BIPOC communities making up a significant portion of the US population, they are underrepresented in leadership positions within the wider commercial sector. Unfortunately, it’s the same in the nonprofit sector. It’s understandably disappointing when you consider that this sector directs a great deal of its resources into the challenges of underserved communities and can act as the perfect vehicle to assist in upward mobility.
The nonprofit sector attempts to be a flag bearer for career growth within these communities, but lacks the representation to back it up. Many non-white leaders can find it difficult to achieve the desired levels of visibility outside of their sphere of influence.
Lack of board representation
There’s a lack of diversity on nonprofit boards. This plays a crucial role in setting the direction and strategy of an organization, and can help to ensure that the organization is serving the needs of the community. One way to improve the number of BIPOC board members is to make a conscious effort to include diverse candidates in the hiring process. This could involve setting specific goals or quotas for the number of diverse candidates that are interviewed, as well as making sure that the pool of candidates that are considered for board positions is diverse.
Additionally, all leaders can work with organizations that focus on promoting diversity in the workplace, such as diversity and inclusion consulting firms, to identify qualified candidates and ensure that their hiring processes are fair and inclusive.
In addition, there are many organizations and resources available to support BIPOC leaders in the nonprofit sector. For example, the National Council of Nonprofits offers a range of resources, including information on board diversity and inclusion, as well as leadership development programs. The Black Philanthropy Network is another organization that works to support Black leadership in the nonprofit sector.
Educational challenges faced by inner-city communities in the U.S.
There are many challenges that inner-city communities in the United States face when it comes to education. Some of these challenges include a lack of funding for schools, a lack of access to high-quality educational resources and opportunities, and a lack of support for students and teachers.
Additionally, many inner-city schools are overcrowded, which can make it difficult for students to receive individualized attention, and for teachers to effectively educate their students. Inner-city schools also often have high rates of teacher turnover, which can be disruptive for students and can make it difficult to maintain a high-quality learning environment. Furthermore, many inner-city students face a range of social and economic challenges outside of school, such as poverty, crime, and family instability, which can make it difficult for them to succeed in school.
Bureaucracy and red tape
In some cases, the process of obtaining funding and other support can be complex and time-consuming, which can limit the ability of these organizations to provide timely and effective assistance to those in need. Many BIPOC communities in the US face higher levels of poverty, which can limit access to quality education and other opportunities that can help individuals move up the social ladder.
Misunderstanding from those working outside the minority group
There are many reasons why well-meaning individuals within this sector who stem from the majority of society (like myself) find it difficult to understand the profound issues faced by those outside of that homogeneous group. Our perspectives can be subconsciously influenced greatly by our social economic start in life. Two individuals living in the same city, but from two different minority/majority communities, can experience the same town in two remarkably different ways.
It’s a complex tapestry of challenges: Prosperity or poverty, race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. They all present experiences which we — by no fault of our own — may find hard to comprehend. However, we can actively try to build cross-community bridges in an attempt to understand our own locality from other points of view.
So what can the nonprofit sector do to help increase accessibility?
Here are twenty-six practical and proven ways to help increase accessibility and inclusion across the nonprofit sector
- Conduct a diversity audit to assess the current level of diversity within the organization and identify areas for improvement.
- Set specific goals and targets for increasing diversity and inclusion, and create a plan to achieve those goals.
- Provide diversity and inclusion training for all staff and board members, to increase awareness and understanding of the issues faced by underserved communities.
- Develop partnerships and alliances with other organizations that serve BIPOC communities, and collaborate on initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion.
- Recruit board members, staff, and volunteers from a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences, and provide opportunities for their professional development and leadership.
- Ensure that the organization’s leadership is representative of the communities it serves. Add advancement of BIPOC staff where you can.
- Create a welcoming and inclusive environment that celebrates diversity and encourages open dialogue and respect for all individuals.
- Review and update the organization’s policies and practices to ensure that they are fair and inclusive for all members of the community.
- Provide opportunities for members of BIPOC communities to participate in the decision-making processes of the organization through committees, task forces, and other forms of engagement.
- Invest in programs and services that support the specific needs and priorities of BIPOC communities, and ensure that they are designed and delivered in partnership with those communities.
- Conduct outreach and engagement activities in a culturally sensitive and respectful manner, and consider hiring staff or consultants with expertise in working with BIPOC communities.
- Provide resources and support for BIPOC-led organizations and initiatives, and work together to advance common goals and objectives.
- Participate in public policy debates and advocacy efforts that affect underserved communities, and represent the interests and concerns of those communities.
- Collaborate with other nonprofit organizations and community groups to organize events, campaigns, and initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion.
- Provide support and assistance to BIPOC-owned businesses and entrepreneurs to help them grow and succeed in their fields.
- Create a network or coalition of nonprofits that are committed to increasing diversity and inclusion, and share best practices and resources with each other.
- Develop mentoring and coaching programs that provide support and guidance to BIPOC professionals and leaders as a secondary goal alongside your mission.
- Offer internships and apprenticeships to members of underserved communities, to provide them with valuable work experience and the opportunity to learn from experienced professionals.
- Support and promote the work of artists, writers, and other creative individuals from BIPOC communities, and showcase their talents and achievements within your fundraisers.
- Provide education and training programs that are tailored to the needs of underserved communities.
- Work with schools, universities, and other educational institutions to provide opportunities for BIPOC students to learn, grow, and develop their potential.
- Collaborate with healthcare providers and other organizations to provide access to quality healthcare services for members of underserved communities.
- Engage in research and evaluation activities that focus on the needs and challenges faced by underserved communities, and use the findings to inform program design and development.
- Provide support and assistance to BIPOC individuals and families who are struggling with poverty, homelessness, or other social and economic challenges within the reach of your nonprofits daily functions.
- Partner with government agencies, foundations, and other funders to secure resources and support for initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion.
- Share success stories and examples of good practice with other nonprofits to inspire and motivate them to take action on diversity and inclusion.
BIPOC leaders bring unique educational perspectives to the table and have a tenacious drive to seek success. Often the distance they have traversed simply to get to the start line in life is greater than many others in leadership roles.
Dialogue between minority and majority diasporas on a leadership, managerial, or personal level will benefit us all. Otherwise, these invisible barriers can make it difficult for either side to learn about the other’s reality. The nonprofit sector plays a vital role in both advancing society and helping talented individuals from all backgrounds rise up to affect change.
In recent years, there has been a growing movement to increase diversity, equality, accessibility, and inclusion in the nonprofit sector. The benefits of including greater diversity helps ensure that our programs and services are tailored to meet the needs of all the communities we serve. Leadership pooled from different backgrounds is a strength which the nonprofit sector benefits from.