The nonprofit sector is experiencing a racial leadership gap. Studies show the percentage of people of color in the executive director/CEO role has remained under 20% for the last 15 years even as the country becomes more diverse.

To understand the causes of this persistent gap, the Building Movement Project conducted the 2016 Nonprofits, Leadership, and Race survey. Over 4,000 respondents answered questions about their current nonprofit job, interest in leading a nonprofit, training/supports, views of leadership, and personal background. In this report, the first in a two-year series, authors Sean Thomas-Breitfeld and Frances Kunreuther compare people of color and white respondents’ background, aspirations to be leaders, training and attitudes towards leadership.

The survey findings challenge the nonprofit sector’s prevailing theory of change: there needs to be more attention on finding or convincing people of color to consider leadership positions, retaining qualified leaders and offering training to prepare emerging leaders for top jobs.

The results tell a different story. They show more similarities than differences in the background and preparation between white and POC respondents. In addition, people of color are more likely to aspire to be leaders than white respondents.

The report includes calls to action, addressing the practices and biases of nonprofit leaders. Rather than focus on perceived deficits of potential leaders of color, the sector should concentrate on educating nonprofit decision-makers on the issues of race equity and implicit bias, accompanied by changed practices and measurement of progress.

The Building Movement Project develops research, tools, training materials and opportunities for partnership that bolster nonprofit organizations’ ability to support the voice and power of the people they serve.

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