Nonprofits caught in the middle

Black Lives MatterBlack Lives Matter. A simple, revolutionary, and necessary cry that requires an examination of systemic racism and actions that dismantle systems and invest in Black individuals, families, communities, and businesses.

So, what’s a nonprofit leader to do? How do we respond to legitimate and long un-heard cries of Black communities? Nonprofit leaders – Black and white – serve Black communities and stand in the gulf between who we as communities want to be and who we actually are. We make something out of nothing.

At the same time nonprofits depend on government grants; major funding from foundations and individual philanthropists; and board members drawn from the community, business sector, and established local, regional, and national leaders. How and when do nonprofit leaders take a stand when we know that those who they depend on may not – or do not – agree with their position and may withdraw funding and leadership – and encourage others to also disinvest?

As people take to the streets, nonprofit leaders are gathering to take a collective stand to amplify the demands of protestors. In Memphis Tennessee over 150 nonprofit leaders issued an open letter (www.bit.ly/MemphisNDA) demanding action. The central premise: “For far too long, nonprofits have been a stop gap solution to systemic issues… Relying on nonprofits to fill the gap and fix issues that are hundreds of years in the making is not enough. We believe we can have a city where everyone thrives, but it will take bold action to get there.

Businessman in CuffsWe talked with one of the leaders who helped craft the letter. He made it clear that while we were talking with him, a Black man, he wanted us to make sure we let it be known that the voices of Black women are leading the movement. The following are points arising from community discussion for nonprofit leaders to consider as they organize to support and advance the work of protestors.

Too often nonprofits deal with the results of the system’s challenges, and not changing the system. If we are not dealing with systemic issues, structural racism, then we are not addressing the challenge. The limited government perspective says government will do x and then we will look to everyone else to fund what we don’t want to fund.  We need to change this.

As Black leaders, it’s not enough to say we care, we must join with the cries and lift up the positions of racial justice. To be sensitive to the fact that we are joining protesters in the streets, not trying to drown out their voices.

Most of us are filling the gap, but we also must take the time to imagine what true equity in our community would look like. “Stop gap” means that we as a community are not looking at the systemic issues that move Black people into secondary status. We must work with government to solve problems that are so old and engrained. Here’s the question: What does government have to do to provide for a budget that actually makes investments in and reflects our true community values.

Nonprofit leaders face challenges in navigating the space between government, philanthropy and community. We can collectively raise our voices for systemic change.

For more information email MemphisNonprofitsDemandMore@gmail.com.


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Copyright 2020 – Mel and Pearl Shaw of Saad&Shaw – Comprehensive Fund Development Services. Let us help you find your way through this unknown time. Video and phone conferencing services always available. Call us at (901) 522-8727. www.saadandshaw.com.

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