Does it matter that the staff and leadership of nonprofits are mostly white when the people they serve are not? A 2011 study of nonprofit leadership across the country showed that less than 20 percent of nonprofit leaders are people of color. But according to a 2017 study called Race to Lead, 82 percent of the people in the nonprofit sector said they believed it does matter that there are few people of color in leadership roles.
Nonprofit employees, take the Race to Lead Survey here.
This year, Race to Lead is expanding its scope to include Austin, asking nonprofit employees to participate in its online survey in the month of August. Local nonprofits are bracing for the results, because what the 2017 revealed was that people of color have the skill and the will to lead nonprofits, but that the barrier of bias is what keeps them from attaining those positions. It’s likely the results of the new study will force Austin nonprofits to confront their own bias.
Sharon Vigil, chief operating officer of nonprofit Communities in Schools of Central Texas, used the 2017 as a starting point to examine CIS’s own staff, and has been leading assessments and change for two years. Since this new study will include Austin, she said, “I think the results will create a baseline understanding of the issue. It will be interesting to see how the community uses this tool. I’m excited.”
In 2017, Race to Lead, conducted by New York-based Building Movement Project, asked over 4,000 nonprofit employees about their professional qualifications, educational background, preparation for leadership roles and willingness to pursue them. It broke responses down by ethnicity to see if there was a difference between whites and people of color. What it found was that there was no difference between the two categories of people.
“The will is there and the skill is there,” said Frances Kunreuather, co-author of the study, “but we suspect, because of the types of responses that people gave us, that people of color are facing racialized barriers from decision makers.” She says those in a position to hire and promote employees make assumptions about people’s ability, education, and training. “We also heard that people of color don’t get the same grace that white people do,” she said. “They have to prove that they deserve that leadership role.”
Vigil of CIS, who is the first person of color in an executive role at that nonprofit, says she took on the job of examining her nonprofit’s diversity because it was her own experience as a woman from Guatemala. “For CIS, when it comes to our student-facing staff, we look very much like our community.” She and the staff have had training, reexamined their hiring process, and have hired consultants to lead a “change team”.
“We’re not doing this just to do it or because it’s a good thing to do,” said Vigil. “If this did not impact the kids in a positive way, we wouldn’t do it. But it does.”
PHOTO: Members of the “change team” of Communities in Schools Central Texas, created in December 2018 and led by chief operating officer Sharon Vigil, third from left, bottom row. Contributed by CIS.
NOTE: This article also appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on August 4, 2019.