National Nonprofit Survey Seeks Input from Memphians

By Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, Co-Director of the Building Movement Project

When the Building Movement Project (BMP) launched our first survey on nonprofits, race and leadership in 2016, we were trying to understand why there weren’t more leaders of color in the nonprofit sector, even though organizations had been talking about the importance of diversity for years. But we also knew that a national survey could only reflect local realities to a limited extent. So three years later, as we survey nonprofit workers again, we’re paying special attention to what staff report about the nonprofit sector in places like Memphis.

At a national level, the vast majority (80%) of respondents to our 2016 survey agreed that one of the sector’s “big problems” is that the leadership of nonprofit organizations doesn’t reflect the nation’s diversity. But through this year’s research effort, we hope to understand more about how nonprofit staff in key places think about race and leadership within their organizations and across the sector.

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As a mid-sized, Southern city where the majority of residents are people of color – and the plurality of residents are Black – we were very interested in the conversation sparked by workshops that BMP and Momentum Nonprofit Partners held in June. During these sessions, BMP shared some of the findings from the 2016 survey and then asked people how local political, economic and social realities affect nonprofit organizations in Memphis. From the racial wealth gap to the role of foundations, people had a lot to say about how local forces can consolidate power and influence in the hands of a few – mostly white – leaders in the nonprofit sector.

The 2019 Race to Lead Survey will be live thru the end of August, so we’re asking all staff working for nonprofit organizations in Memphis to take 20 minutes to visit and share your experience and views. Then in the fall, we will do focus groups with nonprofit staff in Memphis and other cities – some where the majority of residents are people of color and others where people of color constitute the minority of a city’s population – to examine how local contexts differ in terms of the opportunity for people of color to lead nonprofit organizations.

We are so grateful for the continued support and partnership of Momentum Nonprofit Partners and welcome the support of other nonprofit leaders in the Memphis area in helping to spread the word about the 2019 Race to Lead Survey throughout the month of August. Anyone working for a nonprofit organization in the United States, and U.S. territories can complete the survey, so please share the survey link – – wide and far!