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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Mind The Gap

Pamela J. Oakes

By Pamela J. Oakes

In case you hadn’t noticed, there has been a widening divide in the country between Whites and Blacks. No, despite the aftermath of the most recent election, I am NOT talking about politics, economics, or even education. I’m talking about a divide in the nonprofit sector – specifically in the arena of nonprofit leadership.

Unlike its more popular gap-siblings, the “socio-economic gap” or the “educational-achievement gap”, the “nonprofit leadership gap” rarely gets much mention and yet is just as destructive for communities of color. At present, roughly 74% of nonprofit entrepreneurs are White, while only 5 percent are Black. Why this is alarming is because according to sources like the Annie E. Casey Foundation, at least 60 percent of nonprofits serve people of color.

Each year, multiple-billions of dollars are dispersed to nonprofits by trusts, foundations and the U.S. government to fund business, personal, housing, educational and other human service needs. In fact, a large percentage of government grants benefit African Americans and other people of color the most – thanks in large part to the “gap-siblings” which makes communities of color among the neediest populations.

Why should a lack of Black nonprofit leadership concern you? Because if billions of dollars are flowing through communities of color to help communities of color, then shouldn’t people of color have power and control over those billions or at the very least a say in how, when, where, why and on what those billions get spent?

In Philadelphia, members of PAALF (Philadelphia African American Leadership Forum) conducted an extensive survey of the city’s human service-oriented nonprofit organizations. Key finding emerged that are all too often mirrored around the country:

  • Organizations led by African Americans are smaller, as defined by number of staff and volunteers.
  • African American-led organizations have fewer cash reserves and are more dependent on government grants than white-led organizations.
  • Predominately Black boards struggle with access to key social networks, which can negatively impact access to funding.
  • The paucity of African American senior staff at white-led organizations also has implications on the future pipeline of African American leaders.
  • African American-led organizations are more likely to serve the neediest populations with the least resources while being located where services are needed most.

To be fair, I am not suggesting that there is some covert conspiracy being perpetrated by the white nonprofit establishment to ostracize Black folks. In fact, I applaud anybody – regardless of ethnicity – who has the passion and dedication to uplift the underserved. However, diversity and inclusion does matter. All people of color, but in particular African Americans, should be starting their own nonprofit enterprises, applying for directorships on nonprofit Boards and pursuing C-suite roles in the industry.

As someone with a career stake in the nonprofit sector, I get deeply concerned – and you should too – when, once again, our voice is silenced, our perspective is dimmed, and our priorities are diminished or shoved to the back burner…simply because WE don’t occupy a seat at the table.

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