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Meeting the Need: Building the Capacity of Community-Based Organizations

November 30, 2022

The Building Movement Project (BMP) surveyed leaders in the nonprofit sector to find out what they needed to maintain and build their organizational infrastructure in order to fulfill their mission. Our interest was two-fold. We targeted leaders of smaller community nonprofits that are often left out of national discussions on building nonprofit capacity. We also wanted to understand whether challenges differed when comparing organizations with Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders and white-led groups.The findings—from over 800 survey respondents, including extensive write-in responses, as well as four focus groups—show the capacity issues nonprofit leaders face are similar across race. Nonprofit leaders want help growing their organizations, raising money, and addressing staff issues, especially burnout. Despite these similar needs, there are differences between white and BIPOC leaders when it comes to finding the capacity-building supports they need to address these challenges.The results reflect recent critiques of the capacity-building field in three ways:Our findings call into question the assumptions that BIPOC-led groups have greater needs for infrastructure supports than white-led organizations. The data shows that BIPOC and white respondents faced similar infrastructure challenges across a variety of indicators.BIPOC respondents reported a harder time than white respondents in finding providers that understood their organization and the communities they served. BIPOC leaders were also less likely to rate the support they received as adequate, suggesting that capacity builders were less able to offer the help BIPOC-led groups needed.Respondents told us their greatest challenge to stabilizing and growing their organizations was funding. The mostly small community-based organizations that responded to this survey were in a bind. Addressing their infrastructure issues would help them grow as an organization, including raising more funds.But money for capacity-building did not necessarily lead to funding for doing the work. BIPOC participants were especially concerned that they received grants to hire consultants instead of, rather than in addition to, funds that would help them build and operate their organization, or even support to implement the recommendations made by the infrastructure providers.As we enter a period that many worry will see an even bigger decrease in giving to nonprofits, especially for groups with small budgets, it is important to reflect on how capacity building can provide the best added value to help nonprofits in local communities survive and thrive.

Trading Glass Ceilings for Glass Cliffs: A Race to Lead Report on Nonprofit Executives of Color

January 20, 2022

Trading Glass Ceilings for Glass Cliffs: A Race to Lead Report on Nonprofit Executives of Color focuses on the experiences and challenges of nonprofit leaders of color who have attained the top position in their organizations. It builds upon the findings of the 2019 Race to Lead Revisited report, as well as a previous report on nonprofit executives from the 2016 Race to Lead survey data.This report demonstrates that the proverbial glass cliff is an all-too-common reality for leaders of color in the nonprofit sector. Ascending to an executive position does not end a leader's struggles with racism, and sometimes increases those challenges. In particular, Trading Glass Cliffs for Glass Ceilings shines a spotlight on:The racialized barriers that leaders of color overcome to attain their executive positions.The persisting challenges experienced by people of color who hold executive leadership positions.The heightened struggles faced by leaders of identity-based organizations.The added burdens placed on leaders of color who follow a white executive director or chief executive officer.The potential next wave of executive leaders transitioning out of their positions.

Race to Lead Revisited: Obstacles and Opportunities in Addressing the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap

June 16, 2020

Inequality in the United States is a familiar issue to those who work in the nation's nonprofit sector. Many nonprofit organizations are dedicated to supporting and empowering communities that have limited resources and influence due to systemic and structural inequalities. As part of this commitment, a growing number of nonprofit organizations are reflecting on how societal inequities are replicated in their own organizations. This report, Race to Lead Revisited: Obstacles and Opportunities in Addressing the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap, presents ongoing research and analysis by the Building Movement Project (BMP) into why the nonprofit sector has so few leaders of color. As this report is finalized in the spring of 2020, a worldwide pandemic, renewed grief and outrage over the continued killings of Black people by police and vigilantes, and a deepening recession have even more sharply exposed fault lines of who holds power and privilege and who is treated as expendable.1 The nonprofit sector itself is scrambling as organizations, especially smaller community-based groups, fear for their financial futures at the very moment when their work is more vital than ever. These challenges offer the opportunity for organizations and their funders to respond by addressing not only the immediate crisis but also systemic inequities both within nonprofit organizations and society at large.2 The data and analysis presented here offer insight on how to support organizations that embrace racial equity internally as they work toward a society in which all people have equal voice, opportunity, and power.The Building Movement Project released initial survey findings on race and leadership in the nonprofit sector in the 2017 report Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap. That report challenged long-held assumptions about why so few people of color lead nonprofit organizations, including persistent assertions that people of color need more leadership training and are less likely than white peers to aspire to top leadership roles. The data collected from a 2016 national survey of nonprofit employees showed that people of color in the sector were similarly qualified as white respondents and had more interest than white peers in becoming a nonprofit leader.3 The lack of diversity in nonprofit sector leadership was not a reflection of the qualifications or ambition of people of color, but the result of racialized barriers that inhibited their leadership ambitions, from lack of support by white boards of directors to the biases of executive recruiters. To increase the diversity of nonprofit leaders, the report recommended that the sector shift its focus away from the individual qualifications or goals of emerging leaders of color and toward addressing the systemic bias in the sector that prevents their advancement.

Nonprofit Executives and the Racial Leadership Gap: A Race to Lead Brief

May 28, 2019

This brief shifts focus to those who have already reached positions as nonprofit EDs and CEOs to explore how nonprofit executives grapple with the real-world demands of leadership when they attain it. The survey data and insights shared through interviews and focus groups highlight key areas where the pressures of executive leadership seem to be increased for people of color. Despite these challenges, nonprofit EDs and CEOs demonstrate remarkable determination and resilience.

Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap

October 18, 2017

Building on the Boston Foundation's Nonprofit Effectiveness work and the spring release of Opportunity in Change: Preparing Boston for Leader Transitions and New Models of Nonprofit Leadership, this forum focused on the racial leadership gap that the nonprofit sector is experiencing.Studies show the percentage of people of color in executive director/CEO roles has remained under 20% for the last 15 years, even as the country and the people nonprofits serve have become more and more diverse. To understand the causes of this disparity, the Building Movement Project conducted a survey with more than 4,000 nonprofits on the topic of nonprofits, leadership and race.At this forum, the Boston Foundation, Barr Foundation and Race to Lead report authors Sean Thomas-Breitfeld and Frances Kunreuther presented the results, including new analysis of Massachusetts data, which calls into question the common assumption that to increase the diversity of nonprofit leaders, people of color need more training. The findings point to a new narrative: to increase the number of people of color as leaders, the nonprofit sector needs to begin by addressing the practices and biases of nonprofit organizations themselves.

Coordinating Collaboration To End Homelessness: A Mid-Point Learning Assessment Of The Reaching Home Campaign And Opening Doors-Connecticut

July 29, 2015

The Reaching Home Campaign was launched in 2004 with the goal of ending chronic homelessness in Connecticut. Through the adoption of the federal Opening Doors framework in 2011, the Reaching Home Campaign expanded its focus to build the political and civic will to prevent and end all forms of homelessness in Connecticut. The report identifies some key elements that have helped us sustain the Campaign over the arc of many years: the Campaign has energized and motivated a diverse group of stakeholders to work together to respond to a significant social problem, established strong internal structures to direct this energy, and kept its focus on advancing change in a few distinct strategy areas. As the report notes, three key actions that have made the Campaign a success so far are a) finding a clear shared purpose and defining clear goals to guide the Campaign, b) nurturing strong relationships with state officials, and 3) speaking with one voice in advocating for solutions. The report also highlighted areas the Campaign can build on, including further refining its collaborative structure, amplifying its communications, and expanding engagement of staff working at the front lines of service delivery and people who have experienced homelessness.


May 1, 2015

Asserting that Black lives matter also means that the quality of those lives matters, and economic opportunity is inextricably linked to quality of life. Decades after the Civil Rights Movement and the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, structural barriers still hold back African Americans in the workplace.The authors of this report provide some broader context on the black jobs crisis, including its origins and effects; the particular impact of the crisis on African American women; the declining state of black workers and their organizations, particularly within the labor movement; and the implications of the twin crises of joblessness and poverty-level wages for organizing. This report also features examples of how black worker organizations are combining strategic research, services, policy advocacy, and organizing to help black workers weather the economic storms and improve the quality of jobs that are open to African Americans over the long term.

Coordinating Collaboration to End Homelessness: A Mid-Point Learning Assessment of the Reaching Home Campaign and Opening Doors, Connecticut

January 1, 2015

In Connecticut, the Partnership for Strong Communities (PSC) and a group of advocacy organizations, government agencies, and community providers are leading a campaign to end homelessness in the state. Guided by the vision that "No one should experience homelessness," the Reaching Home Campaign and Opening Doors—Connecticut (the "Campaign") emphasizes housing as an essential platform for human and community development. The Campaign brings together a broad spectrum of partners representing diverse sectors to collectively build the political and civic will to end homelessness. In just three years, the Campaign has already achieved remarkable success advocating for and securing over $300 million in funding for programs to end homelessness and to create permanent supportive and affordable housing. Among its many accomplishments, the Campaign conducted the state's first study of youth experiencing homelessness and released the Opening Doors for Youth plan to end youth homelessness. The Campaign is also closing in on the goal of ending homelessness among Veterans, as well as launching a pilot program to connect families receiving rapid rehousing with employment supports and implementing a successful pilot that identifies and connects frequent users of emergency departments at hospitals to housing and supportive services. To support the Campaign's work at this important juncture as it moves past planning and towards implementation and sustainability, the Melville Charitable Trust—a private foundation and longtime partner of the effort—approached The Building Movement Project (BMP) to conduct a mid-point learning assessment. One goal of the assessment was to help the Campaign take stock of its internal structures and processes. Another goal was to share insights on what it means to coordinate collaboration, given the growing use of "collective impact" as a strategy to address social problems.

Advancing Community Level Impact: A Series of 5% Shifts

October 22, 2013

Service providers are on the front lines of our nation's struggles with the effects of poverty and inequity. While the sector has always focused on helping people, service organizations underwent significant changes in the 1980s when government began to contract out service delivery on an unprecedented scale. Over time, organizations absorbed the service functions that were largely abandoned by the state -- meeting people's basic needs for food, shelter, health, and safety. Facing increased competition for government contracts, increasing demands for services and tougher measures of accountability, many of these organizations adapted to the trends by becoming business savvy, professionalizing staff, and looking for models of efficiency. Other organizations did not participate in the new government contracting system and instead focused on organizing and advocating for changes in the government's social welfare policies. These major shifts in the sector are often described as creating a divide between "providing services to oppressed populations or organizing them to challenge power structures." But in practice, service groups fall at various places along a spectrum, and increasingly service organizations are integrating their mission to meet individual needs with their aspiration to address the larger systems, policies, and structures that contribute to the problems people face.This report examines how two organizations developed and executed strategies that advanced their commitment to bridge the service-organizing "divide" by thinking beyond individual needs to address problems at a community level.

Developing The Leadership of Recipients: A Series of 5% Shifts

October 22, 2013

Leadership is closely tied to notions of confidence, agency and authority in our culture. Too often, structural inequities restrict the opportunities for people to develop those self-perceptions and exercise leadership, particularly for people who find themselves in need of formal supportive services. Even within the nonprofit sector, issues of power imbalances that are embedded throughout society can be replicated within organizations and provider/client relationships. For instance, due to the lack of representation of voices from communities most likely to receive services, the systems and structures that govern public benefits and services often demand compliance to rules that recipients have not had a role in shaping. Additionally, the professionalization of service delivery -- which has been the subject of long-standing debate in social work theory -- can over-emphasize the power of the "expert" deliverers of services and reduce constituent's voice in advocating for themselves and their communities. In spite of these broader societal barriers and dynamics in the sector, organizations find a wide range of ways to develop clients as leaders, strengthen their self-image, and build their capacity to act on their own behalf.This report includes two case studies of leadership development efforts by nonprofit organizations.

Asking Powerful Questions: A Series of 5% Shifts

October 22, 2013

People working in service agencies constantly ask questions. During an intake process, questions may assess need and eligibility; in a counseling session, questions may focus on strengths and diagnoses; in an advocacy or organizing setting, the questions can be about root causes, power and strategy. While some questions can seem intrusive and coercive, other questions can "open the door to dialogue and discovery" and invite "creativity and breakthrough thinking." Questions can illuminate new opportunities and build a stronger foundation for relationships. Tapping into the power of questions to generate new possibilities and ignite change is an important tool for service providers working to help people and communities. This report profiles two organizations that began asking new and powerful questions in their work with clients and volunteers.

Building Community from the Inside Out: A Series of 5% Shifts

October 22, 2013

The concepts of community and social capital are connected to feelings of belonging, interdependence, trust and reciprocity; and both ideas have been integrated into frameworks for helping marginalized people and addressing social problems. Sense of community is linked to psychological well-being and is one of the most commonly researched ideas in the field of community psychology. Social capital gained popularity over the last two decades, thanks in part to Robert Putnam's best-selling book "Bowling Alone", and to foundations promoting the concept as "useful to help families escape poverty and build healthy communities."The popular focus on community and social capital may draw criticism for being romantic or naïve as a social change strategy, but in direct service delivery, both concepts point to the hard-to-quantify benefits that social service agencies provide. In neighborhoods that have been marginalized by economic and racial inequities, service providers often see specific problems of homelessness, hunger, unemployment, addiction, etc., linked to more generalized social distance and alienation. Therefore, when nonprofit organizations take a holistic approach to helping people, they should not overlook the importance of building a sense of community within their organization and among clients.This report includes two case studies of community building efforts by nonprofit organizations in Detroit and New York City.