Nonprofits operating in Detroit, a predominantly Black city, have racial gaps in leadership and those gaps likely lead to less access to capital, a first of its kind survey shows.
The survey, called the Detroit Nonprofit Leadership Census, was produced by the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA) in partnership with Data Driven Detroit (D3).
It found that in a city with 78.3% of residents who are Black, 66.5% of the city’s nonprofits have executive directors who are Black, Indigenous or are people of color. And 62.6% of those executive directors are the first people of color to have the leadership role.
The results are meant to inform Detroiters about who is in leadership roles at nonprofits that operate in the city and to shine a light on those nonprofits that can get overlooked when it comes to funding and resources.
“We started this journey last year because so much was happening in the world, in terms of the pandemic and the racial uprising,” said Nellie Tsai, social innovation officer at MNA. The pandemic highlighted “more than ever,” she said, “the stark disparities between how different nonprofits were being leaned on during the pandemic and just really throughout, and what services were being demanded and yet, also who was getting funded and who wasn’t during those times.”
The survey looked at racial diversity in leadership roles at 200 organizations out of about 1,500 operating in the city.
“There’s been some national studies that show the disparity in funding across race, so, less funding and resources going to BIPOC-led nonprofits,” said Kyla Carlsen, director of programs at Co.Act Detroit, which led focus groups and programming with survey respondents. “I think it’s really great to have this information available locally to take action around, and something that I hope we can take action around and something that Co.Act is working towards in this coming year.”
Focus groups also were held by Michigan Community Resources. The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University and the Knight Foundation also supported the survey.
The survey was conducted in February 2021 and also found:
- When pursuing a nonprofit leadership role, Black women often face biases, such as facing discrimination.
- But executive directors who work for organizations led by Black women bring in more young leaders than their white-led counterparts to take part in their community efforts.
“We were able to highlight and really showcase the intersectionality of what it means to be a leader of color, a Black woman leader of color, specifically, and how much our Black women leaders have to shoulder in a lot of ways,” said Tsai. “I think that the fact that they have younger leaders is also a testament of how we are thinking about our talent pipeline and who our next generation is.”
Other findings include:
- 4.9% of nonprofits surveyed with white leaders had no people of color on their boards.
- 1.6% of nonprofits with white leaders had a board with only people of color.
- 19.6% of white-led organizations had no staff members who are people of color.
- Organizations with white leaders tended to have more people of color on their staff than on the board.
The survey also found that white-led organizations have more access to capital and human resources than organizations led by people of color.
This part of the survey measured the number of staff and board members, along with assets and revenue. The survey found that organizations with leaders of color have assets between $471 and $1.8 million, while most white-led organizations have assets between $63,228 and $3.6 million.
The lack of access to capital for nonprofit organizations led by people of color and for minority-owned businesses has been a topic of discussion in Detroit for quite some time.
“I think one of the things that was really striking to me was there were differences, especially in terms of the assets and revenue,” said Noah Urban, co-executive director of Data Driven Detroit. “If you work in the nonprofit sector, you understand at an anecdotal level — you hear stories from people. But seeing it actually reflected in the numbers, there was something very powerful.”
The survey also found that organizations led by people of color stay in business four years less than white-led organizations surveyed.
Dwan Dandridge, president and founder of Black Leaders Detroit, a nonprofit that focuses on raising and distributing capital for Black businesses and nonprofits, was not surprised by the survey findings.
“One of the questions that I had is how much of that 66.5% is nonprofits that were founded and run by a Black Detroiter versus organizations that have been launched by somebody other than a Black Detroiter,” Dandridge said. “We can trust and know that we’re going to see leadership within those organizations that were started and led by Black Detroiters.”
Dandridge said he hopes that one of the things people examine closely is who is receiving the funding. He’s also noticed that there’s a network issue between Black leaders in Detroit. Although people have been good at sharing resources with each other, Dandridge said the community of Black leaders don’t have much access to people who can provide funding.
The survey’s results were also not a surprise to grassroots organization leader Charmane Neal, who founded Hey Y’all Detroit, which offers clients free nutritional food, menstrual products and educational activities.
“People are usually shocked that I’m both a woman and Black when they meet me,” Neal said in a text message response. “It’s always an overwhelming revelation for folks, which is both, I guess upsetting and good. It is very disappointing for me that there aren’t more black run orgs and orgs that are actually run by people who either grew up or live in the city.”
Raphael Wright is a partner of the nonprofit Deeply Rooted Produce, and has other business ventures like Taste the Diaspora and Neighborhood Grocery. He looked to the survey data for signs of progress taking place in an organization.
“More than likely, there are people who are not from or currently living in the city running these organizations,” Wright said. “The processes, the intention, the agendas, etc., don’t necessarily line up with the actual needs or the culture, for that matter.”
Wright said he also feels that many white-led organizations are contributing to positive change in the community. Since he’s involved in the food industry, he knows that many Black leaders are working toward ending food insecurities, but other organizations are making an impact right beside them.
“The other side of that coin is if the city as a whole can acknowledge that progress is being made, then the representation kind of doesn’t matter,” Wright said. “But I think the foundation to that reaction stems from how everyone views the progress. Do we see positive change? What do we see happening in the city? Because if we’re not seeing any progress, then you can always lean towards representation being an issue.”
The survey’s administrators hope that their findings will lead to a call to action.
“We hope that any partner in the ecosystem that supports nonprofits takes an opportunity to reflect on the information and help create and is part of the solutions that we know are needed,” said Kelley Kahn, president and CEO of MNA.
To view the study in greater detail, visit the Nonprofit Leadership Census Results website at bit.ly/3FBueRN