Study Asks: Why are Black Professionals Leaving Philanthropy?

Recent high-profile hirings and movements to tweak what philanthropy “looks like” aside, new data indicate  that an emerging trend in grantmaking is the decline of Black professionals within the field. The Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE)  and members of the Black Philanthropic Network teamed up to take a deeper look at why Black professionals were leaving the philanthropic arena, where they ended up and what organizations could do to address this recent pattern.

Main findings from the report, The Exit Interview: Perceptions on Why Black Professionals leave Grant making Institutions:

  • 72 percent of respondents (the majority of whom had been or currently were in a leadership position at a grantmaking organization) believed that leadership roles for Black professionals  were not substantial within philanthropy
  • 22 percent stated they were “pushed out” of their recent position in philanthropy
  • 48 percent agreed or strongly agreed that employment outside of a philanthropic institution allowed for more on-the-ground work and contact with the community, another 32% agreed somewhat
  • Over 60 percent of respondents left philanthropy for employment with a nonprofit organization

Additional study findings, perspectives from former foundation professionals, a look a regional differences in urban philanthropy (including Pittsburgh) and recommendations regarding organizational leadership, accountability and professional growth in the complete report at the ABFE website.

The Development Director – A “Cursed” Position?

“You see, we have not been able to keep a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor for more than a year since I refused the post to Lord Voldemort.” —Albus Dumbledore

Have you ever wondered about that one position in your organization that seems to be a portal of sorts, depositing new faces into the office at a mildly alarming pace?  Hmm. Why doesn’t any one person seem to hold it for very long?  Why is that the only door in the office without a nameplate? What departmental antics could possible result in these once fresh-faced hires briskly stepping out the door one day never to return, nor be spoken of again?

In the Harry Potter series, a position at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is supposedly cursed by the evil wizard Lord Voldemort after he was passed over for the post. Those who hold it do so only briefly, all leaving (some more permanently than others) by the end of the term year.  In J.K. Rowling’s tale, that position is the Defense Against the Dark Arts (DADA) professor.  In the nonprofit sector, it’s the development director.

Ok, the comparison may be a bit of a stretch, but surely I am not the first to see the connection?  Actually, considering the findings of a study (a joint venture between CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund) that pinpoints some disturbing trends in development comings and goings, there may be more similarities between the DD’s and the DADA’s  than not.  The report, UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising, identifies 3 hefty issues around securing and retaining development professionals,

  • Turnover.  Sadly, a high turnover rate is the rule rather than the exception in development.  The average period of time a fundraiser holds a position is 16 months, not too much longer than the tenure of our fictitious DADA instructors.  Unlike the professors, however, fundraisers tend to leave for salary and promotion concerns rather than because they are a werewolf or have a cell awaiting them at Azkaban prison. Thank goodness for that.
  • Poor credentials or just a bad “fit”.   Finding qualified, experienced candidates is not an easy task. Professor Gilderoy Lockhart shamelessly padded his wizardry skills to get the DADA gig (he ended up irreparably wiping out his memory due his lack of expertise – imagine your insurance provider’s response to that claim).  A more likely scenario for a nonprofit –  your dream development director’s resume of degrees, skills and accomplishments does not translate into similar outcomes at your nonprofit.  Where was the disconnect?
  •  A lack of organization capacity and culture to achieve fundraising goals. The study found that 20% of nonprofits don’t even have a donor database. What? It’s 2013! Even the ill-fated professors had both cultural and systemic supports in place at Hogwarts. If nonprofit executives welcome their new development directors with a tour that ends with the equivalent of “Here is your office, we’ll be expecting  your  plan tomorrow and a full turnaround by next Tuesday,” well, is anyone surprised at the turnover rate?

Obviously the development director position isn’t really cursed, but it certainly has a set of challenges unique from others in nonprofit management.   It may even be the most difficult position for a nonprofit to successfully fill. Why is that and can that reality be changed?   

Social Media and Education

If you are interested in the impact of social media upon student learning, check out the paper  How Blogs, Social Media, and Video Games Improve Education by Darrell M. West (Vice President and Director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institute) that discusses the positive impacts of new media, Web 2.0 and even interactive gaming on individual learning and the collective classroom experience.

The rise of digital media (and all the nifty tools it has brought us) have lead to increased communication and ease of information dissemination among groups, resulting in a lesser role of the traditional subject expert. The expert is no longer the gatekeeper to a topic area as enormous amounts of data from legitimate sources are just a few quick keystrokes away for nearly any of us with an internet connection.  Granted,  nowadays  s/he could just start a blog and be right back in the running as “expert”.  Web 2.0 laid the groundwork for the challenge to traditional hierarchical communication in organizations, with some of  the more innovative companies creating in-house social media platforms to enhance and encourage collaborative communication among staff.  Is the classroom next?

Will the current generation growing up using  peer-to-peer learning  and crowd sourcing (albeit informally) on a daily basis truly learn in a traditional classroom? How can social media and networking platforms be used to enhance learning at all ages?



Nonprofits and the Gig Economy

Since the economic downturn, much has been written about the demise of the “long-job” (like in the ancient days of the 1970’s when people worked at the same company for a couple of decades or more) and the rise of the gig economy; a freelance, free-floating maze of projects, social media promotion and leveraging almost everyone you ever met at a conference.

Possible factors for the increased popularity of the freelancing lifestyle (or a side hustle plus your day job)  are the recession and related layoffs or “re-organizations” and the ideals of Millennials, namely, purposefully employment with lots of freedom, a job far from cubicle walls and the end to the traditional workday.  They don’t plan to toil in abject misery for 40-plus years, and why should they? They are already reeling from the economy with nearly a quarter of them living with their parents while still believing in a brighter financial future.  Success for them will look much different than that of their Boomer parents, but their adaptability to a shrinking employment sector through near-constant skill acquisition and the ability to effortlessly slide into a spot on a new team around a new table will ensure that they do indeed experience success.

Nonprofit employment data from the 2010 Nonprofit Retention and Vacancy Report from Opportunity Knocks illustrate the serious  impact of the economy on the nonprofit workforce as layoff or termination from a nonprofit organization rose from 28% in 2008 to 36% in 2010.  Also in 2010, just under 20% of nonprofit employees reported leaving their jobs voluntarily after less than one year despite the bleak economic picture. The majority of those persons went to work at another nonprofit. According to the  2012 Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey from Nonprofit HR Solutions , 43% of participating nonprofits plan to hire in 2012 (up from 34 in 2010), but only 25% have a formal employee retention strategy.  Might such data indicate organizational gaps, not a general sector weakness in retention of a qualified workforce?  Is it also possible that this is somewhat related to the growing acceptance of the gig economy and the end of the myth about having “too many jobs on your resume?” While the lack of financial security, benefits and camaraderie – unless you are lucky enough to work with a collaborative with other freelancers – are serious drawbacks (trust me on this)  to the gig lifestyle, there is something to be said about finding or creating the right job for you rather than relying on someone else to do so.

I think that it’s too soon to determine if the gig economy was a response to an unprecedented economic decline or a major shift in the workforce status quo, or a little bit of both.  But is it really just a Millennial thing?  I know Boomers who reinvented themselves via the gig economy and a member of Generation X who is now the Executive Director of the organization she has been a part of for over 20 years  (although the plural of anecdote is not necessarily data).  With a still-volatile economic outlook, will the next decade see a strengthening of the trend away from a centralized employment structure and back to the mobile offices of the skilled, client-juggling freelancers?

Are you a current or former nonprofit professional now part of the gig-based economy?  Would you return to a nonprofit organization on a full-time basis and give up your gigs? Why/why not?