The Work Starts From Within: The Impact of BIPOC Nonprofit Leadership
As an institution by and for Brooklyn, where over 70% of residents identify as people of color, we have been intentional in cultivating a community-led approach guided by racial justice: we regularly seek input from Brooklynites through community conversations, and all of our strategic grantmaking is conducted in close partnership with community members through a participatory grantmaking model and prioritizes funding BIPOC-led nonprofits. We live up to that commitment: of the 115 grantee organizations we funded in 2022, almost three-fourths of our grantee partners were BIPOC-led, and nearly a third were Black-led. But the strides we’ve made exist within a sector that tells a different story.
According to a new report from Nonprofit New York, “In Every County, Across All Budget Sizes: White Overrepresentation in the New York City’s Area’s Nonprofit Leadership,” white CEOs are disproportionately represented among leadership in our local nonprofit sector. Of the nonprofits analyzed in the study—which included organizations in the five boroughs, Westchester, and Suffolk County—approximately 64% of nonprofit CEOs were white, despite communities of color representing 61% of the area’s total population. The top two groups carrying these titles were white women and white men, making up 39% and 29% of CEO positions respectively. In stark contrast, CEOs of color filled in the remaining 32%: Black women account for 10%, Black men are 7%, Latinx women and men represent 5% and 3%, and AAPI women and men account for just 4% and 3% of local nonprofit CEOs respectively.
BIPOC-led Nonprofits Face Barriers to Funding
This overrepresentation of white leadership in New York City area nonprofits is a symptom of a large-scale issue in the world of giving, wherein the resources available to BIPOC-led organizations—and by extension, the investment in the communities that they serve—is woefully inadequate. Nonprofit New York’s study found that this issue of overwhelming white leadership is the same across nonprofits of all budget sizes. Furthermore, the smallest BIPOC-led organizations had the highest rates of insolvency, even when compared to white-led organizations of similar sizes.
Nationally, BIPOC-led organizations are known to face far more barriers to funding than their white-led counterparts. According to a report by Echoing Green released in 2020, revenues of Black-led organizations are 24% less than that of their white-led counterparts, and the unrestricted net assets of Black-led organizations are 76% lower than white-led organizations—a staggering disparity.
This trend is nothing new, and similar funding disparities impact Latinx communities. According to a joint report by Hispanics in Philanthropy and The Foundation Center, from 1998 to 2009 organizations dedicated to addressing Latinx issues only received about 1% of philanthropic dollars in the United States, despite Latinx communities representing approximately 19% of the U.S. population.
Additional Factors Impact Brooklyn Nonprofits
Brooklyn-based organizations are also at a funding disadvantage compared to their counterparts in Manhattan. Despite having the second-greatest number of nonprofits in New York City (at over 13,000), Brooklyn only receives 7.6% of all philanthropic giving in the five boroughs. In contrast, an overwhelming 76% percent of total giving in New York City is directed towards nonprofits in Manhattan. When you place these geographical trends in funding alongside the barriers facing BIPOC-led nonprofits, both locally and nationwide, the outlook is bleak—but rather than lose hope, we can use this as an opportunity to reaffirm our approach and commitment to racial equity, and call our donor community to action.
Our Approach: Community-led, Trust-Based Philanthropy
At Brooklyn Community Foundation, our commitment to racial justice has been central to our work for the past decade. While traditional philanthropy keeps community members at an arms’ length, we trust that those who are closest to the issues are also closest to the solutions, which is especially true in communities of color. To best utilize this lived experience and expertise, we work hand in hand with community advisory councils in our decision-making processes and practice a participatory grantmaking model—one which shares grantmaking decision-making with community members—to shift philanthropic power dynamics and ensure that the most urgent needs of the community are being addressed.
Last year alone, we awarded $5.3 million to 115 nonprofits in the borough: 73% of these nonprofits were BIPOC-led, and 31% had Black leadership. All of our strategic grantmaking is unrestricted, giving organizations the flexibility to use funds for general operating support. This is a direct reflection of our practice of Trust-based Philanthropy, wherein we have full confidence in our community partners to allocate funding to meet their most urgent needs—from staffing, to programming, to making rent for their headquarters and at times, this means simply being able to keep the lights on.
Since the beginning of her tenure as the Foundation’s President and CEO in December 2021, Dr. Jocelynne Rainey has embarked on Listening Tours all across the borough to deepen our learning and involvement with the community. Hosted in different Brooklyn neighborhoods—from Red Hook to Bensonhurst—these Listening Tours are an opportunity for us to hear from dedicated local leaders about the needs of their communities.
Even with the efforts we’ve made, we know that the work has only just begun. We strive to break from the harmful practices that pervade the philanthropic sector, and are committed to further strengthening our commitment to racial justice in the years ahead. The systems that have bolstered and maintained white leadership are not immovable—and as funders, we can address them through intentional introspection and strategy.
Diverse leadership cannot be implemented for diversity’s sake, either. In the latest issue of Nonprofit Quarterly, Dr. Rainey and Vice President of Robert Sterling Clark Foundation Lisa Pilar Cowan discuss the power of applying a reparations framework to philanthropy. As institutions working to address social, economic, and racial injustice, we know we must reckon with how our organizations themselves contribute to maintaining societal inequities.
Dr. Rainey and Cowan offer five key tenets to begin this healing work:
- Move money to the experts
- Fund expansively, both in terms of grant amount and length of time
- Fund to win
- Be part of the movement
- Include reparations in our missions and visions
As Dr. Rainey and Cowan remind us, "We believe that we must fundamentally change how philanthropy both conceptualizes and implements its work, and we are cognizant that it will take time, strategic thinking, and perseverance to make these changes."
However urgently we want to fix the world around us, the work, of course, starts from within. We are confident in the strategies that have guided our work so far and are determined to use them to build a better future for philanthropy and our borough.