News and Information about the nonprofit sector in Massachusetts. Check back frequently to keep informed.
February 26, 2021
Three Years Later, Systemic Bias Persists among Mass. Nonprofits

October 29, 2020 — Massachusetts nonprofits fail to promote, retain, and support nonprofit leaders of color, a newly issued report has found, three years after a similar study came to the same conclusion, and while nonprofits know how to improve diversity, people of color as well as whites working in nonprofits feel decision makers lack the will to make changes.

The findings, released yesterday, based on a survey of 417 executives, managers, and line workers across Massachusetts, were published in The Burden of Bias in the Bay State: The Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap in Massachusetts.

According to the report, sponsored by The Boston Foundation and the Barr Foundation, two of the largest grant makers in Massachusetts:

  • 51% of people of color, compared to 38% of whites, have a definite interest in assuming a top leadership role in their Massachusetts nonprofit organization.

  • Nearly as many, however—50% of people of color, vs. only 4% of whites—said their race negatively affected their career advancement.

  • Even more—77% of people of color and 62% of whites—said the nonprofit sector knows how to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), but decision makers do not have the will to make changes.

Three years ago, 49% of people of color working Massachusetts nonprofits, compared to 46% of white staffers, said they would like to lead their organizations. At the time, 77% of people of color, and 74% of whites, said they felt executive recruiters didn't do enough to find a diverse pool of qualified candidates for top-level nonprofit positions in Massachusetts.

Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, co-director of the Building Movement Project, which authored the report, said the new research highlights “an ongoing toll for aspiring and current leaders of color in Massachusetts nonprofits.”

He added that the number of leaders of color in Massachusetts nonprofit organizations is growing, but that organizations led by people of color “are still undervalued and underfunded compared with white-led peers.”

People of color face strong challenges when aspiring to positions of leadership at Massachusetts nonprofits, a situation which seemed to have worsen in the last three years:

  • In the newly completed survey, 91% of people of color, along with 76% of white respondents, said they feel people of color must demonstrate they have more skills than white peers.

  • In addition, 83% of people of color said they believe Massachusetts organizations looking for a new executive leader who is the “right fit” rule out candidates of color, a view also held by 66% of white respondents.

  • Three years ago, 74% of people of color and 50% of whites working at Massachusetts nonprofits felt their organizations often ruled out candidates of color "based on the perceived 'fit' of the organization."

Kimberly Haskins, senior program officer at the Barr Foundation, said, “This research shows that qualified, experienced, inspired people of color are simply not getting the opportunities of their white counterparts – and that must change.”

The bias against people of color at Massachusetts nonprofits is also reflected in pay: 41% of people of color, compared to 52% of whites, reported receiving a cost of living raise, while 38% of people of color, vs. 47% of whites, reported receiving a performance-based raise.

In addition, 42% of people of color working for Massachusetts nonprofits, compared to 34% of white respondents, were more likely to report their salary was not high enough.

The new report illustrates how Massachusetts nonprofit are falling short of their DEI goals, since 82% of Massachusetts survey respondents reported that they work for organizations with DEI initiatives.

The report highlighted five ways nonprofits can work to meet DEI challenges:

  • Focus on Structures and the Experience of Race and Racism: Take on a structural analysis of race and racism as a critical foundation for race equity work, and couple that with efforts to understand and validate the individual and collective experiences of people of color in nonprofit organizations.
  • Policies Have Meaning… If Enforced: Examine and change organizational policies to reflect an organizational commitment to equity – and act on them consistently and universally.
  • Put Your Money… : Examine funding practices and break the cycle of inequity to ensure organizations led by people of color are receiving adequate funding.
  • Reflecting the Community: Racial Diversity in Action: Demonstrate racial diversity in action by investing time and resources, listening to staff and change organizational practices to recruit and retain diverse staff and board leaders.
  • Responsibility and Results: Organizations committed to DEI must establish thoughtful and measurable ways to assess progress based on a widely-shared plan for what should change, who is responsible, and how results will be documented and reviewed annually.
SUBSCRIBE FREE – Keep current with the Wednesday Report emailed to you free each week. Click here.
Got news, advice, resources? Send it to