The nonprofit sector has a leadership problem — and Tipping Point is looking to shift it

By Jonathan Brack

Recent research shows that people of color represent over 40% of the nonprofit workforce, but less than 20% of executive directors of nonprofit organizations nationally identify as a person of color. These statistics have not changed in nearly 20 years, even as the U.S. population and overall nonprofit workforce has grown increasingly diverse.

Within Tipping Point Community, we estimate that 32% of Tipping Point grantee leaders identify as people of color. And while it is encouraging that this is higher than the national average, the concerning part is that 88% of the people served by these organizations are people of color, with 76% identifying as Black or Latinx.

To be clear, this is not exclusively an issue in the nonprofit sector. People of color are underrepresented in senior leadership positions throughout many industries and sectors of our economy. But while diversity in the tech sector, for example, is widely discussed here, the same issue in the nonprofit sector receives significantly less public attention and is especially important given the content and context of the work itself.

The nonprofit sector is one in which we educate and develop young minds, house families and build pathways to financial sustainability for people living in poverty. And according to nearly every indicator we use to measure and understand poverty — from educational outcomes like reading proficiency and high school graduation to health disparities such as obesity and mortality rates — people of color fare far worse than their white counterparts.

So why does this matter, in terms of leadership? When we do not have a diverse set of people making the decisions about how best to serve communities in need, we lack leadership who shares the lived experiences of the communities being served. When leaders are not deeply connected to the communities they serve, the interventions they prioritize are less likely to be community-based and client-centered.

Drawing on my 20 years of experience in the nonprofit world — with most of that in direct service — I designed and developed the Emerging Leaders Fellowship as a way for Tipping Point to address this problem. An intensive leadership development program for mid-level managers of color who work for Tipping Point grantee organizations, the fellowship is focused on developing leadership capacity on three levels: at the individual level, within organizations, and ultimately in the communities where fellows live and serve — all with a racial equity lens.

Our opening retreat of the 8-month fellowship focused on engaging the Fellows in deep self-reflection about who they are as leaders — both as the leaders they are and as they aspire to be. “[The retreat] has given me the foundational ground to start this journey,” reflected one Fellow, “and the space created is sacred space for us that we don’t often get.”

By focusing on professionals of color in middle-management positions and providing them with this rare opportunity for peer support and training, we can catapult rising leaders into senior leadership roles that ultimately increase their impact.

Over the coming months, I’m excited to explore how the Emerging Leaders Fellows can collectively advance their leadership capacity and bring that to bear in their work to provide people with a pathway out of poverty. Stay tuned to this blog for updates on the program from me and the Fellows — we’re excited to share more soon.

Jonathan Brack is Manager of Strategic Partnerships at Tipping Point Community.

Learn more about our Emerging Leaders Fellowship Program and meet our first cohort of fellows on Tipping Point’s website here.