Walking the Talk: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in North Carolina Nonprofits


Walking the Talk: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in North Carolina Nonprofits 

The North Carolina Center for Nonprofits’ mission is to educate, connect, and advocate for North Carolina’s nonprofits. Our vision is that the state's nonprofit sector is a vital leader in building and sustaining equitable and thriving communities. A core value of the Center is to respect and include the wide variety of North Carolina’s people, cultures, regions, religions, and political views. Another important core value is helping nonprofits be effective in achieving their missions and accountable to their stakeholders.  

To carry out this mission and live up to these values, nonprofits’ leadership must better reflect the diversity of the communities we serve and work with. As importantly, our organizations’ policies, practices and cultures need to support people of color and next generation leaders in ways that ensure that they thrive in their professions and can fully bring their gifts and talents to nonprofit work for North Carolina's communities.  

That is why the Center is partnering with the National Conference for Community and Justice of the Piedmont Triad (NCCJ) on a multi-year initiative called Walking the Talk. The goal is to improve the capacity of North Carolina nonprofits to address: 

  • The sector’s racial leadership gap,

  • The sector’s generational leadership gap, and  

  • The policies, practices, and organizational cultures in nonprofits that exacerbate these gaps.    

NCCJ of the Piedmont Triad is the region’s oldest human relations organization. For 80 years, it has worked to build mutual understanding and respect among all people – regardless of race, culture, faith, sexual orientation, gender, or socioeconomic background. NCCJ advances this work through advocacy, education, and dialogue.

“This initiative aligns seamlessly with NCCJ’s core mission and values,” says executive director Ivan Canada. “We have a lot of experience with workplace diversity and inclusion programs, and we’re thrilled to be partnering with the Center to use our expertise for the benefit of North Carolina’s nonprofit community.”

Studies show the percentage of people of color in the Executive Director/CEO role has remained under 20% for the last 15 years even as the number of people of color in the country continues to rise.i  

Board Source’s recent Leading with Intent survey shows that racial diversity has also declined on nonprofit boards.ii According to the 2017 survey: 90% of board chairs and 84% of board directors are white. Nearly a fifth of all chief executives report they are not prioritizing racial diversity in their board recruitment strategy, despite being dissatisfied with their board’s racial make-up.

The North Carolina Center for Nonprofits' 2016 Countdown to the Inevitable: North Carolina CEO’s in Transition revealed that nearly 60% of North Carolina’s nonprofit CEOs plan to retire by 2020.iii Many of today’s young nonprofit professionals express reticence about the sector’s ability to meet their needs in the long run. They cite as key barriers long hours, low pay, outdated leadership structures, and a lack of executive-level skills and experiences.

The good news is that one in three (32%) young nonprofit workers who participated in a survey by Compass Point said they want to be an executive director someday. Race to Lead’s 2016 survey showed that more people of color than whites aspire to take on that role, and despite biased myths, are highly skilled, experienced and ready to do so.iv

The root of the problem does not lay at the feet of young nonprofit processionals, people of color, or other marginalized groups. Predominantly white, veteran nonprofit executives and board members need support moving beyond diversity initiatives that have little staying power to address institutional and systemic barriers such as entrenched biases in staff and board recruitment, hiring, and promotion; underperforming boards; an underfunded, overburdened sector; unrealistic leadership expectations and organizational models; and inequitable policies and practices.v

It is important to understand the distinctions between the terms diversity, inclusion, and equity, mainly because traditional diversity efforts that have focused simply on increasing the number of people of color, LGBTQ people, those with disabilities, poor and working-class people and other marginalized groups in nonprofit staff and board positions have had minimal impact. More significant outcomes are evident with inclusion efforts that aim to increase cultural competence and implement fairer, more lasting changes. Leaders in the racial and gender justice fields advocate for an equity approach that takes aim at root causes and systemic change. 

In partnership with our Members, NCCJ, and colleagues, the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits endeavors to chip away at the barriers and move beyond diversity toward equity. We understand that this work is an ongoing, lifelong process and we honor the many wonderful efforts that have come before this initiative. Although inequities remain stubbornly entrenched in systems, institutions, and our sector, we have faith in the profound wisdom, courage, and skills that nonprofit professionals bring to the table every day to help move the needle toward a North Carolina we all deserve. We look forward to celebrating progress over time in our own organization, in yours, and in our state’s communities. We are all in this together!

For more information, contact Bridgette Burge, Director of Programs.


iKunreuther, Frances and Thomas-Breitfeld, Sean, “Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap”, Building Movement Project, 2017, Accessed October 13, 2017, http://racetolead.org/.

iiBoardSource, Leading wih Intent: 2017 National Index of Nonprofit Board Practices, Accessed October 13, 2017, https://leadingwithintent.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/LWI2017.pdf.

iiiNorth Carolina Center for Nonprofits, “Countdown to the Inevitable: North Carolina CEOs in Transition”, North Carolina Center for Nonprofits, 2016. Accessed October 13, 2017, http://www.ncnonprofits.org/resources/countdown-inevitable-north-carolina-nonprofit-ceos-transition.

ivThe Annie E. Casey Foundation. “Ready to Lead? Next Generation Leaders Speak Out”, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2008. Accessed October 13, 2017, http://www.aecf.org/m/resourcedoc/AECF-ReadyToLead-2008.pdf.

vBell, Jeanne and Cubias, Paul and Johnson, Bryron, “Will We Get There Hire By Hire? Reflections on Executive Leadership and Transition Data Over 15 Years”, CompassPoint Nonprofit Services, 2017. Accessed October 13, 2017, https://www.compasspoint.org/sites/default/files/documents/Hire_by_Hire_Report.pdf.