Nonprofits led by people of color face growing challenges, study finds

Nonprofits led by people of color face growing challenges, study finds

Faced with mounting challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic and structural racism, nonprofits led by people of color (POC) are charting new paths to achieve equity and justice for their communities, a report from the Building Movements Project finds.

Based on a survey of four hundred and thirty-three nonprofit leaders of color and interviews with forty-one others in May and June, the report, On the Frontlines: Nonprofits Led by People of Color Confront COVID-19 and Structural Racism (28 pages, PDF), found that POC-led organizations were preparing for multiple crises related to unmet basic needs in their communities, a fall/winter resurgence of COVID-19, and policies that disproportionately criminalize individuals and communities of color. Nearly eight in ten respondents (79 percent) said they were responding to needs in communities directly impacted by COVID-19 — whether through loss of life (37 percent), challenges associated with maintaining proper social distancing or sheltering in place (58 percent), and/or concerns for worker safety (61 percent) — while 87 percent indicated that they were assisting people impacted by the economic fallout from the pandemic, including job loss (81 percent), difficulty paying for or loss of housing (62 percent), problems paying for utilities (53 percent), and/or loss of healthcare benefits (41 percent). More than half (55 percent) of respondents also said their constituents faced immigration status- and COVID-related discrimination, while 43 percent reported increased levels of harassment and violence in their communities. 

According to the report, POC-led nonprofits also were working to address existing needs exacerbated by the pandemic and fill gaps left by ineffective government policies and systems. More than half of respondents reported they had ramped up their coalition work (54 percent) and direct service programs (51 percent), while 43 percent and 48 percent had expanded their mutual aid programs and advocacy efforts — with the latter focused on ensuring that government crisis response and recovery plans meet the needs of communities of color, immigrants, and refugees. At the same time, 33 percent of respondents reported doing less grassroots organizing, although some were investing in new digital technologies in support of their outreach and programming efforts.

The report also found that POC-led nonprofits were responding to the call to end anti-Black racism by pushing for structural change — and that they were looking to secure additional investments and partnerships in order to deepen their organizing and advocacy efforts. As of May, however, 38 percent of all survey respondents had seen a decline in their grant funding as a result of the pandemic, while only 30 percent had seen an increase, with 46 percent of African American-led nonprofits reporting a decline in grant income and 23 percent reporting an increase. 

"We are running full-force ahead right now — increasing staff and spending money to save as many lives as possible," one interviewee said. "And we are doing so with deep anxiety that the money might run out."

"Given the potential of a recession, austerity measures, and decreases or withdrawals of government contracts and funds," the report's authors write, "POC-led nonprofits require support and partnerships that will last for decades."

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