Race and ethnicity matter online

Jocelyn Harmon is Director of Nonprofit Services at


where she connects progressive nonprofits with Care2 members so that together they can build a better world. She is a noted speaker and


on the fast-evolving role the Internet is playing on marketing and communications. 

This spring, the Urban Institute and the Racial Diversity Collaborative released a study called

Measuring Racial-Ethnic Diversity in the Baltimore-Washington Region's Nonprofit Sector

. The study found,

like others

, that “nonprofit sector leadership lags population diversity.” Specifically, while people of color comprise 49% of the population in the region, they make up only 22% of nonprofit leaders. In addition, the study found that Executive Directors of Color mostly lead local or regional, not national organizations. “Nearly all (92 percent) national organizations are led by white executive directors.”*

As a person of color, I found this study very discouraging. Still, I can’t say that the findings were “news.”


Attend any nonprofit conference and peruse the staff and board pages of most nonprofit websites and you will discover this truth. The nonprofit sector is really white.  

For the record, there is nothing wrong with being white! There are lots of amazing white people in the world doing important, world-changing work. The problem is that there are a disproportionate number of white folks running social sector organizations. This means that similarly talented, amazing people of color are squeezed out. It also means that our movements and organizations suffer from a lack of diverse perspectives and donors.

The lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the nonprofit sector - especially at the highest levels of leadership - needs to be addressed and soon! This disparity exists in stark contrast to a country that is changing rapidly. Specifically, by 2050, the Census Bureau estimates that the majority of Americans will be people of color.  

While new research to address gender and age stratification in charities is being released (see Resources below), the discussion of racial and ethnic stratification in the nonprofit sector continues to stall. My hope is that this will CHANGE at Web of Change!  

Let’s catalyze a shift in how we think, talk, and ACT when it comes to making the nonprofit sector more diverse. Here are some questions that can get us started. What are yours?

  • What is diversity? What do we really mean when we use this word? Are we talking about race and ethnicity? And, if so, are we better off using these specific words and being more direct?
  • So what and who cares? Why is racial and ethnic diversity in our organizations and movements essential to their success? This is NOT a no-brainer. Many nonprofit leaders STILL need to be persuaded that diversity is indeed important to nonprofit leadership and organizing success.
  • How can we intentionally build institutions that are inclusive, diverse and powerful, especially now that we have the technology to do it?
  • What will make this discussion MOVE toward ACTION? Do we need to renew and reinvigorate morale arguments about diversity? Or, do we need to make an economic case for diversity, i.e. illustrate how having a diverse leadership team and supporter base leads to greater revenues and impact?
  • What will happen if we do nothing, especially in light of the dramatic demographic shifts that are underway in the U.S.? Will the nonprofit sector continue to be an effective force for change?

Resources and further reading: