CDFF Newsletter: Seeding the Growth of BIPOC Leadership

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Seeding the Growth of BIPOC Leadership

Hello! We’re here with issue #4 of the California Dignity for Families Fund (CDFF) Newsletter Series: Learning for Immigrant Justice. This month we’ll be spotlighting how to support BIPOC leadership of nonprofit organizations.

We all know that corporate leadership and boardrooms in America are mostly white. But, surprisingly, so is leadership at nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. While almost 90% of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are white men, 90% of executive directors of nonprofit organizations identify as white.

Keeping this lack of leadership diversity in mind, CDFF wanted to address the fact that organizations that serve Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities are often excluded from grantmaking priorities. The Fund made an intentional effort to prioritize funding BIPOC-led nonprofits that serve or are in solidarity with migrant communities. As a result, 77% of CDFF-funded nonprofits have leaders who identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color.
Race and ethnicity of leaders of CDFF-funded nonprofits.

But funding BIPOC-led nonprofits isn’t just about changing statistics or increasing diversity numbers.

Lived Experiences

CDFF found through interviews that nonprofit leaders and staff strongly emphasize the importance of having senior teams and staff who reflect the communities they serve. 82% of interviewees stated that it was very important or important that their staff share similar backgrounds and lived experiences with the communities they serve.

These shared backgrounds allow the nonprofit partners to better understand and meet the needs of their clients. Black Alliance for Just Immigration is an organization committed to working toward Black liberation, for all Black people. They explain that, “Our staff, which is all Black, supports folks who are our community members and our family members whose experiences we understand even if we don't always share them. Our staff and consultants also embody the Black experience in the U.S… These experiences inform our collective work because we understand at a cellular level how to engage with our community, allowing us to do transformative work." 

As reported by the nonprofit partners, language and cultural competency are crucial to effectively serving migrant communities. Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative tells us that, “[Our] staff are immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants. In order to serve communities adequately, staff have to understand their needs and communicate in their native language."

Cultural competency also includes reflecting the lived experiences of transgender migrants. As the folks at Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement point out, “It's an absolute priority to have everyone on board – from leadership to all staff members – be highly competent and experienced with your marginalized communities. We have a campaign to address the violence that trans folks face by being misgendered and put in detention cells that do not align with their gender identity and the violence that comes from that… if you are not knowledgeable in that, you wouldn't be able to provide the support to make sure that that program is run effectively."

How to Support BIPOC Leadership
Given that 90% of nonprofit leadership is white and that organizations that serve Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities are often excluded from grantmaking priorities, how can philanthropy make a change to support and seed the growth of BIPOC-led nonprofits?

In light of the most recent National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report, there is a need for funders to invest in organizations with small budgets ($500,000 or less), areas that lack funding such as rural communities, and Indigenous and Black, Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian (BAMEMSA)-led and serving groups.

Funders can start re-prioritizing their funding and support by:

1. Intentionally seeking to understand how BIPOC communities are impacted by issues funders are addressing. For example, environmental funders could explore the effects of environmental racism and how pollution affects communities of color. Education-focused foundations could learn about the needs of BIPOC students from rural areas.

2. Conducting site visits of the communities served by grantee organizations to understand the work that is being done and looking to the BIPOC leaders doing that work. 

3. Removing barriers that often prevent BIPOC-led organizations from accessing funding, including stringent requirements on budget size and tenure of the organization; an intense focus on scalability; and a shortage of open RFP opportunities, which can exclude smaller or newer grantees. 

4. Reassessing how success is measured. For example, instead of defining success as whether or not a particular bill becomes a law (which can take years), assess the number of people an organization drives to participate in a direct action event in support of the legislation. Or track the number of community members who become volunteers, staff, or leaders in the organization. This could lead to funding new and different highly impactful BIPOC-led organizations.

5. Encouraging organizations to reassess their staff hiring policies. One of CDFF's nonprofit partners, Al Otro Lado, explains why they don’t have educational requirements for staff: “[We] make training opportunities available to staff that came into this work through a different path. Different types of people have different types of experience they can bring to this work. It’s the only way to build a truly diverse staff."

CDFF is committed to impacting how philanthropy engages with communities and how it redistributes resources. We hope you will be inspired by the work of the Fund’s grantees and informed by its principles, which are grounded in the development of trusting relationships across a broad spectrum of stakeholders and centering the expertise of movement leaders.

Guided by these principles and by the priorities of directly impacted communities, we can work together to help diversify the staff and leadership of nonprofit organizations serving immigrants and communities of color.

Thank you for reading this issue of the CDFF Newsletter Series! Next month we’ll be addressing the importance of language access in migrant care.
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