Transforming Our Sector by Dismantling Systemic Barriers

3 minute read

Jeanne Tedrow, President & CEO, North Carolina Center for Nonprofits

Many nonprofit leaders, along with other business and community leaders, have made public statements recently about structural racism, especially in the wake of police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many other Black and Brown people, and in light of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, primarily Black and Brown communities. These expressions of disdain for racism offer hope that we are at a crossroads. Such remarks, including my own, rightly assert our commitment to work together to dismantle structural racism within our organizations.

But these statements alone are not enough. As leaders, we can ensure that we walk the talk by redoubling our organizational efforts to dismantle structural racism in our workplaces. Increasingly, executives in the nonprofit sector, working with business leaders, have taken steps that make their organizations more equitable, inclusive, and diverse. These actions are moving in the right direction, yet more needs to be done.

The Building Movement Project (BMP), a nonprofit that informs the nonprofit sector with research and resources to tackle social issues, documents the sector’s racial leadership gap in its Race to Lead reports. “Studies have tracked the small percentage of people of color in executive director/CEO roles for years,” they show, noting “efforts to support, train and inspire aspiring leaders of color are important, but they are not enough to move the dial toward a more diverse and equitable leadership.” Identifying and removing barriers to executive leadership among people of color can help change this narrative.

The North Carolina Center for Nonprofits believes our sector can be a catalyst to continue the dialogue, model behaviors to dismantle racial barriers, and promote opportunity with people and communities of color across sectors. The influence of nonprofit leadership can be far reaching. We engage the larger private business community and leverage their support to achieve a shared vision. Many business leaders seek positive community engagement and participate as volunteers in direct services and serve on governing boards of nonprofits.

The Center initiated Walking the Talk programs including webinars, discussion groups, and training on white privilege, structural racism, and the leadership gap described by BMP. Practical things we have done and encourage others to do to advance inclusiveness, diversity, and equity in our organizations, include:

  • Form an Equity Committee among your board and staff and revise policies and protocol that may be biased;
  • Evaluate personnel policies with an equity lens to determine how they affect who is hired, and the hiring process to determine inclusion/exclusion practices;
  • Hire a consultant or seek a volunteer facilitator who specializes in race equity work to create an equity strategy with the organization and articulate the organization’s position on race and equity;
  • Request executive search firms and others with whom you contract to share their diversity policy. 

The Center will offer the EDI Roundtable for Nonprofit Executives: Practical Strategies for Dismantling Racism within North Carolina Nonprofits to help build and diversify the nonprofit leadership pipeline. This executive leadership program will focus on the racial leadership gap, the generational leadership gap, and the policies, practices, and organizational cultures in nonprofits that exacerbate these gaps. We invite executive directors/CEOs, board chairs and other board leadership, human resources staff, business leaders, and other decision makers to join this virtual roundtable learning opportunity to facilitate ideas and actions towards eliminating systemic barriers and practices within nonprofit organizations.

When we acknowledge that structural racism exists, we become more open to identifying strategies that change behaviors. Organizations and businesses intent on making change will need support, education, and a willingness to learn, make mistakes, and keep going. Working together, listening, and learning, Black, Brown, and White colleagues can transform our organizations and our sector. We cannot turn away from this opportunity. We can do this!

This article appears in the Triangle Business Journal, A Better World: Nonprofits need to redouble efforts to address racism across society, July 17, 2020.


Registration is now open for the EDI Roundtable for Nonprofit Executives: Practical Strategies for Dismantling Racism within North Carolina Nonprofits.


Equity, Diversity, Inclusion