PAALF: If an organization’s senior management is not diverse, it is unlikely that organizational leadership will be diverse.

The importance of having a diverse staff, as well as the value of specifically having African American staff serving African American clients, was raised in the survey and in the focus groups and interviews. Overall, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders report the value of having a diverse staff – diversity in race, ethnicity, class, gender, experience, etc. — at nonprofit organizations as a way to better serve their clients. When staff share characteristics with clients, they are better able to relate to them, understand their challenges, communicate in a culturally and linguistically sensitive manner, and interact with sympathy and empathy. A diverse staff can “relate, connect, and build trust with our clients” (African American ED/survey respondent).

Survey respondents also noted that staff diversity is beneficial to the organization in understanding the issues and developing programming, by including more ideas and perspectives.

African American EDs reported that the race/ethnicity of their staff was a benefit to the organization both for providing better services to clients/participants, and for engaging with the local community. For example, one noted:

“As an African American-led organization, our affinity with the population we serve is a tremendous advantage”

(African American ED/survey respondent)

Focus group participants and funders also discussed the importance of seeing African Americans in leadership roles. Some felt this “role modeling” was particularly important for youth. Focus group and interview participants agreed in the value of AA-led organizations, as demonstrated by this funder’s comments:

“I want to say it doesn’t matter, on one hand….what you need is a good leader, a good thinker, and a good director of any color. But the highest goal would be to have not just a good leader. [T]here is a higher value to having black-led organizations.”.


Diversifying staff (and leadership) was also identified as a challenge, particularly among white EDs. African American EDs, however, in the focus groups also noted challenges in recruiting/finding staff and believe the pipeline could be improved through increased awareness of nonprofit careers among college graduates. In response to a question about how race/ethnicity was a barrier to organizational growth, white EDs noted on the survey that the people they serve are diverse, but staff are not, as these remarks demonstrate:

“Our constituency is more diverse than our leadership and I think our constituency would be better served by more diverse leadership (staff and board) who can shape appropriate program and be more aware of issues/challenges faced by that constituency”

(White ED/survey respondent)

“… We do not have enough Latinos or African Americans on staff to have the insight into the daily lived experience of students to adequately develop our program appropriately. Not having diversity is like not having 20/20 vision. ”

(White ED/survey respondent)

While focus group participants and interviewees universally value diverse staff and leaders, they also noted that competence was more important. They wanted the best person for the job:

“Who has the core competencies to carry out what we need to carry out whether they be a black male, or a white male, or a black female, or a white female? Who can get the job done right away?.

(African American ED/focus group participant)

Some also noted that cultural competence can and should be taught to all staff, regardless of their background, as a way to provide better services and programs. One funder noted:

“It’s critically important that people are educated, sensitized in all ways, trained – whatever word you want to use – that their awareness is ‘up’…”


Programs and services provided by organizations

The programs and services provided by nonprofit organizations are the central piece in fulfilling their missions and helping to solve critical social problems in Philadelphia. The most common services that EDs in this study reported providing at their organizations were:

  • Education for youth (49%)
  • After-school activities (39%)
  • Community development (37%)
  • Youth development (37%)
  • Advocacy (37%)

AA-led organizations were more likely than white-led organizations to provide: after-school activities, youth development, financial literacy, and business/entrepreneurship.