OpEd: It Takes a Village… But the Villagers Are Not Thriving (At Least Not in the Nonprofit Sector)

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In going through the pandemic, people began to reassess their sense of purpose and their satisfaction with work, inspiring many to leave jobs and driving “The Great Resignation.”  In the nonprofit sector, Baby Boomers and older adults comprise less than 20% of the workforce — and this number is rapidly shrinking — while Millennials and Generation Z (ages 18-35) now make up about half of it. Emerging research tells us that these groups have unique skills and needs. These trends impact an organization’s capacity for staff development, and therefore impact capacity for mission fulfillment.

Through its Race to Lead initiative, the Building Movement Project conducts surveys of the nonprofit sector to explore workers’ experiences of race and leadership. Findings reveal significant racial inequities in career advancement opportunities, availability of role models, adequate salaries, and most importantly, access to positions of power. 

The surveys also reveal another important phenomenon: greater racial diversity among board members and executives is associated with: a) greater leadership commitment to DEI and combating root causes of oppression, b) greater implementation of DEI-related policies and procedures, and c) higher rates of employee happiness, empowerment, perceptions of fair treatment, and hopes for job retention among both people of color and white employees. Increasing the pipeline to leadership for people of color is one of the most urgent priorities for eliminating racial inequities in the nonprofit sector.

In the greater New York region, we are seeing major spikes in the demand for nonprofit services and operating costs for the organizations, yet we are not seeing corresponding increases in finances to offset the expenses. According to the latest Nonprofit Leadership Survey Report from Grassi Advisors & Accountants, this problem of insufficient funding to fulfill missions has been observed in two-thirds of nonprofit organizations providing social services and over four-fifths of those providing education.  The sector needs a rapid influx of resources to attract and retain qualified staff and leaders, develop new programs and services, cover overhead costs, and keep pace with digital technology. 

People with the ability and willpower to donate should invest directly in the nonprofits that do the work they care about.  Alternatively, amplify the power of a donation by funding charities that will leverage each contribution through targeted programming. This may include the values-driven giving of the United Way, the focused and hyperlocal giving of community foundations in a particular county, or even the leadership development and racial equity programs of the Adelphi Center for Nonprofit Leadership.  Such investments support capacity-building programs, technical assistance initiatives, and strategic and responsive giving.