Investing in Baltimore’s Nonprofit Leaders of Color
Baltimore’s Black nonprofit leaders confront unique challenges as they navigate the city’s social impact landscape. Due to longstanding inequities, they often face barriers to vital mentorship and networking opportunities that can yield more funding and greater success. To help the city’s next generation of Black nonprofit leaders thrive, the Annie E. Casey Foundation invests in targeted leadership coaching efforts.
“The Foundation funds nonprofits, but we also have to make sure their leaders are being supported as well,” says Talib Horne, director of the Foundation’s Baltimore Civic Site. “Young nonprofit leaders, especially those of color, rarely have opportunities to consider their own needs or identify areas where they’d like to grow. Coaching allows them to develop important leadership skills and resiliency, ensuring their organizations can continue to function and thrive.”
What Is Leadership Coaching?
Leadership coaching is a process in which a leader and experienced mentor establish a trusting relationship that allows the leader to receive support, feedback and guidance that will help them throughout their career. The mentor and leader engage in ongoing conversations on topics such as:
- strengths and areas of growth;
- aspects of leadership they are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with; and
- career aspirations.
In Baltimore, Opportunity Connection and Community Wealth Partners work with the Casey Foundation to facilitate its leadership coaching work.
Diane Bell-McKoy, president and CEO of Opportunity Connection, has been proud to serve as a mentor since her time as a Foundation senior fellow. In her current work with emerging leaders on behalf of the Casey Foundation, she focuses on three key aspects of mentorship:
- Coaching. “I always view these relationships as a conversation,” says Bell-McKoy. “By starting these conversations with probing questions, we can discover areas where a leader wants assistance or to identify goals.”
- Thought partnership. “These are conversations about leadership, organizational issues and the specific focus of the organization — general discussions that allow a leader to have someone to bounce their thinking back and forth with,” she says. “My goal is to create a safe place to have conversations they may not be able to have elsewhere.”
- Relationship connection. “The reality is that younger Black nonprofit leaders in Baltimore often lack access to the network of leaders and relationships needed to grow their organizations and grow as leaders. Once they know who they’d like to connect with, I help link them. By introducing a leader to a peer or local leader with similar interests or goals, they can exchange knowledge and build authentic professional connections.”
Bell-McKoy emphasizes that coaching relationships are vital to ensuring equity in Baltimore’s nonprofit landscape. “These are smart, passionate young Black men and women in a city that has been, historically, hyper-segregated,” says Bell-McKoy. “They do not have access to the same resources that white nonprofit leaders do. If funders want Black-led nonprofits to succeed, mentorship and operational funding must be a priority.”
Community Wealth Partners
Community Wealth Partners collaborates with nonprofits and funders to develop strategies and build capacity. It offers coaching engagements that last roughly nine months to help leaders build the “muscle” they need to be effective.
“When it comes to coaching, our goal is to create a safe space for leadership development and thought partnership,” says Idalia Fernandez, Community Wealth Partners’ senior director. “Nonprofits in Baltimore, especially grassroots level organizations, are adapting very quickly with few resources at their disposal. Coaching engagements give leaders of color a chance to take a breath, determine their priorities and sharpen important skills.”
Rachel Hutt, a veteran leadership coach with Community Wealth Partners, emphasizes that young leaders often struggle when it comes to making difficult or unpopular decisions. “When I work with someone, I can’t say, ‘Here’s what you should do,’ but I can help them examine all the options available to them and enable them to make the choice that feels right. Often, leaders know what they need to do but aren’t sure how. With coaching, we can run through scenarios they might face or identify areas where they are hesitating.”
How Can Funders Promote Leadership Coaching?
Funders interested in supporting leadership coaching or learning more about this work should consider the following:
- Coaching leads to results, even if they aren’t obvious. Coaching is less about recordable returns on investment and more about helping leaders shift mindsets and hone decision making abilities that help them throughout their careers.
- The need for coaching is normal. Nonprofit leaders of color are at a disadvantage because they have access to fewer resources and receive less support. Coaching and mentorship can help leaders develop existing skills and discover new ones.
- Everyone can benefit from coaching. Coaching and other kinds of leadership development are often seen as optional, “nice to have” organizational support. Investing in coaching at every level of a nonprofit can prevent burnout and encourage effectiveness.