Investing in Baltimore’s Nonprofit Leaders of Color

Posted January 24, 2024
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Two Black men shake hands in a professional setting, while smiling at each other.

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.

Oppor­tu­ni­ty Connection

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:

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.

Learn how lead­er­ship plays a key role in sys­tem trans­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ty change

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