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3 posts from December 2019

What It Takes to Manage Leadership Change in the Nonprofit Sector

December 05, 2019

ChangesEvery organization experiences leadership change. But these days, the nonprofit sector is experiencing a big demographic shift. Which is why it's essential for all nonprofits to start planning for the kind of thoughtful leadership transitions —including those resulting from both expected and sudden departures — any organization needs to survive and thrive.

According to the 2017 BoardSource report Leading With Intent, only 27 percent of nonprofits have a formal succession plan in place. That's unfortunate, because having such a plan in place can help any organization overcome the challenges and bumps in the road that almost always pop up in the wake of a leadership transition.

In the past, the process was commonly referred to "succession planning." However, that term often refers to identifying a successor for a specific leader and, in our view, has outgrown its usefulness. It's more helpful, instead, to think about the work of preparing for and managing leadership change as "intentional pathway planning," a more expansive term that serves as a reminder that leadership change involves much more than thinking about a single role or person; it's a holistic approach and lens that should be applied to every step of the hiring and onboarding process.

While every organization’s circumstances are different (involving things like leadership configuration, organizational goals, skills gaps, etc.), all nonprofits would be well-served to take a proactive approach to building a strong leadership pipeline, developing internal talent for higher-level roles, and making themselves aware of specific knowledge and/or diversity gaps that need to be addressed.

Tips for successful intentional pathway planning include:

Consider the big picture. A critical first step in intentional pathway planning is to understand your organization's leadership needs and mission-focused objectives. What are you trying to do? What type of talent will you need to get there? What are your organization’s knowledge gaps, and how can they be filled?

Plan and train. To ensure there's a robust pipeline of talent available to take advantage of future leadership opportunities, you need to proactively take steps to support talent. Provide employees with ample training and development opportunities — as well as continual mentoring and coaching — to help them learn, grow, and thrive. Check in with individual employees about their goals and aspirations, and then tailor development plans for them as appropriate. To ensure you have a deep bench of future leaders, allow staff at various levels to flex their leadership skills — and assume additional responsibilities. Such an approach is just as beneficial for the organization as it is for individuals on the receiving end of these training opportunities and can be pitched to job candidates as an organizational value proposition.

Look internally first. There are significant benefits to promoting from within, including capturing institutional knowledge, boosting team morale, and increasing employee engagement and retention. It's also less expensive and time-consuming to promote from within.

Know when to look externally. Be mindful about your talent needs and recognize that you might not have the skill sets, experience, diversity, or other key attributes needed to fill certain roles in the organization — in other words, there may be valid reasons to conduct an external search. It can be valuable to bring in outside perspectives and skills, especially if you are trying to address knowledge gaps on your internal team. And if your existing team lacks diversity, now would be a good time to do something about it.  Just make sure you're ready to support people from diverse backgrounds as they are onboarded and begin to acculturate to your environment.

Use consistent systems. We are firm believers in the consistent use of performance management processes to capture personnel assessments and track professional development opportunities. Tools such as StrengthsFinder make it easier to assess the strengths (and weaknesses) of your leadership team, identify where knowledge gaps exist, and train people to fill those gaps.

Prioritize staff development. Healthy, sustainable organizations tend to excel at "growing" leaders and retaining their best talent. Make sure that someone on your leadership team is tasked with championing your pipeline development efforts and has the authority to embed it in the organization’s strategic priorities and budget. Recognize, too, that this needs to be an ongoing effort and remain a priority, even when other tasks and initiatives beckon.

Emphasize where DEI meets pathway planning. In the twenty-first century, it's imperative for organizations to embrace a culture of diversity with respect to race, gender, age, experience, perspective, and so forth. The first step in doing that is to identify and celebrate the various skills, competencies, perspectives, and backgrounds already present on your team. Then take steps to augment those skills and perspectives with external hires that enhance your diversity goals. Among other things, that means making sure a diverse group of candidates is considered for every promotion and leadership opportunity that arises.

Customize your plans. Recognize that your pathway planning needs to address future departures at multiple levels, including president/executive director, senior management roles (e.g., development director, major gifts officer, public affairs director, etc.) as well as board members. Because each of these positions requires different skills, experience, and so on, you'll need to develop specific plans to address each possible vacancy scenario.

Expect the unexpected. In a perfect scenario, your executive director will give the board plenty of notice about their planned departure date and will be willing to help select and train their successor. Unfortunately, departures of key leaders sometimes happen abruptly or unexpectedly (due to health issues, family emergencies, or other reasons). If your organization has a thoughtful plan in place, it should provide the kind of guidance an interim director will need during a difficult, tumultuous, and possibly emotional leadership change. If possible, take the time (with the help of the board) to develop an emergency transition plan that spells out the delegation of duties and authority (even temporarily) in the event of an unexpected transition or interruption in leadership.

Consider your organization's biggest challenges. Identify the current — and potential — challenges your organization faces (or is likely to face in the future). What type of leader will best be able to help the organization overcome these challenges, navigate obstacles, and meet its goals and objectives? What skills, qualities, and personality traits does this individual need to possess? What leadership qualities does your organization most need to bring about positive change?

Communicate wisely. Include a communications plan in your transition plans. While the circumstances of the transition will dictate the specific messages around it, you'll need to communicate any leadership change to internal and external audiences. Identify possible spokespeople, and make sure they're aware of — and comfortable with — their roles. Develop a list of key stakeholders that will need to be in the loop (e.g., board members, major donors, key staff, media, etc.). Recognize that you need to be thoughtful, clear, and concise with your messaging and its delivery.

Leadership transitions — especially when they're unexpected — can leave an organization vulnerable. It's essential to be prepared for a variety of scenarios and have plans in place to manage any change in leadership, regardless of the circumstance. BoardSource’s research shows that most organizations don’t have a formal transition plan in place. Make sure your organization does.

Headshot_miecha_forbes_KoyaMiecha Ranea Forbes is senior vice president of Culture, Inclusion & Strategic Advising at Koya Leadership Partners, an executive search and strategic advising firm guided by the belief that the right person at the right place can change the world.

We Must Act Now to End Students’ Basic Needs Insecurity — Together

December 03, 2019

Food insecurity on campusAs hundreds of thousands of students scramble to submit their college applications, many are thinking beyond the daunting cost of tuition and student fees to how they will pay for their everyday necessities once they've arrived on campus. With nearly half of college students at two- and four-year institutions experiencing food insecurity and more than half struggling with housing insecurity, it goes without saying that gaps in basic-needs provision are a major issue impacting today's college students — one that requires a systemic solution.

Examples of expenses that can derail a student's progression to a degree include emergency car repairs, rent increases, or a sudden illness. Such needs and emergencies often can be addressed, however, by immediate direct supports, including emergency-aid grants, food pantries, rapid rehousing services, and campus partnerships with community and government agencies aimed at ensuring students are supported throughout their academic journey.

Colleges are well positioned to be points of entry to a coordinated suite of social services for students. Working in tandem with community and government partners, colleges can use their own resources and design more student-centered services to cover students’ basic needs and keep them on track to their degrees.

For instance, in Washington state, the United Way of King County is working in partnership with local colleges to develop on-campus Benefits Hubs, which are designed to connect students to public benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as well as community partners that can provide immediate resources and financial assistance for housing-related emergencies.

Holistic support provided by colleges and community-based programs also can play a critical role in providing students with a pathway out of their basic-needs challenges. The Southern Scholarship Foundation in Florida works with universities and colleges across the state to provide rent-free housing to postsecondary students who demonstrate academic merit and financial need. Having a secure and safe place to return to after school and work is essential for student well-being and academic success and can be the difference between a student graduating or dropping out.

There's no one-size-fits-all in terms of helping today’s college students — many of whom no longer match the traditional description of the 18- to 24-year-old seeking a four-year degree right out of high school. Today’s students are more likely to be over 25 and the first in their family to attend college. Many also often face competing demands for their time, including work and family responsibilities.

Research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) found that while the population of single-mother students has increased significantly over the years, only 28 percent of single moms who enroll in college will graduate with an associate or bachelor’s degree within six years, compared to 40 percent of married mothers and 57 percent of female students who are not parents. The disparity often is due to the very real challenge of supporting a family, juggling work, and completing coursework. IWPR found that providing students with parent support services, including childcare, goes a long way to helping single moms succeed.

Colleges and universities alone cannot fix the problem. It will take a movement to address students' multifaceted needs and safeguard postsecondary education as a public good. And it will require action and collective investment involving multiple sectors, including institutions of higher education, government, community-based organizations, and research and philanthropic entities.

In October, California governor Gavin Newsom signed into law sweeping legislation designed to increase the allocation of funding for emergency-aid grants for community college students in the state, in addition to approving $19 million to address homelessness among students across the state’s community college, California State University, and University of California systems. Both policy actions expand support for students who may otherwise be at risk of dropping out due to financial emergencies and basic-needs challenges. Other states could emulate California and help their most vulnerable students overcome these types of life crises so that they persist through school and graduate with a degree.

Last month, ECMC Foundation launched the Basic Needs Initiative, a $3 million effort to pilot, evaluate, and scale programs aimed at stemming the tide of basic-needs insecurity among college students. Through a national cohort of seven organizations and institutions working with two- and four-year institutions, we will spend the next three years working with grantees to address basic needs issues among students, with a focus on food, housing, child care, mental health, emergency financial assistance, and transportation.

But we can't stop there.

We need others to invest in organizations working to address basic-needs insecurity. We need holistic approaches aimed at increasing academic persistence and graduation rates for the most vulnerable students on campus. And we need to work to eliminate basic-needs insecurity as an issue so that students who complete a bachelor's degree reap the return on investment and the social mobility that comes with it.

Sarah_belnick_for_PhilanTopicTogether, we can reduce basic-needs insecurity for students, today and into the future.

Sarah Belnick is senior program director for College Success at ECMC Foundation, a national foundation working to improve postsecondary outcomes for students from underserved backgrounds.

 

Garifuna and the 2020 Census

December 02, 2019

Garifuna300Gilberto Amaya's career in international development has taken him to more than thirty countries, where he has implemented renewable energy systems, agribusiness projects, and poverty alleviation initiatives. Along the way, he witnessed the post-independence struggles of sovereign states whose names are rarely heard on nightly newscasts in the U.S. — Burkina Faso, Togo, Zambia, Zimbabwe. A native of Honduras, he has memories of blending into and being welcomed by communities in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Central and South America.

Yet, near his home in Fairfax, Virginia, a bureaucracy momentarily stripped him of his identity — and incident that sparked Amaya's quest to have "Garifuna" fully recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau.

"After conducting some public business at a government agency in Virginia," Amaya recalled, "I was leaving the counter, and the Latina clerk heard me speaking Spanish to my wife and called me back."

For ethnicity, Amaya had checked the box next to "black."

"You checked the wrong box," the clerk said. "You can't check black. You speak Spanish. You have to check Hispanic.' "

Today, Amaya is a member of the Census Bureau's National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations (NAC), which solicits recommendations on ways to improve the accuracy of the decennial count in determining ethnic minorities, and is allied with other Garifuna organizations, scholars, and Afro-Latino advocates working to document the heritage and raise the visibility of the Garifuna people.

The Garifuna are descendants of Africans of mixed tribal ancestry who were captured and shipped from Africa to the Caribbean islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Garifuna historians recount on-board insurrections that ran ships aground. The captives escaped inland and intermarried with indigenous Carib and Arawak Indians, who were also subject to forced-labor bondage. Sometimes referred to as the Black Caribs, the Garifuna led and participated in the unsuccessful Carib Wars aimed at overthrowing British dominion, sometimes with assistance of France, England's imperial rival.

Although slavery had been banned in England by the late 1700s, the slave trade continued in the Americas. Given public outrage and the growing political strength of the abolition movement, the British demurred, in the Caribbean, from wholesale execution of prisoners deemed guilty of armed resistance. Although many Garifuna died after being captured, others were transported seventeen hundred miles to the west and abandoned to their fate.

"They put more than two thousand people on ships and transported them across the Caribbean to the Bay Islands of Honduras," Amaya explains. "That's where the Garifuna people first landed in Central America. And after their arrival on the coast, they eventually moved north and west to the rest of Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize, as well as south into Nicaragua. Through migration, some large communities also were established in the U.S., for example in the South Bronx."

Amaya says New York's Garifuna population is America's largest, numbering between 70,000 to 100,000. "But that is only an estimate because we don't really show up in decennial census data." Garifuna can also be found in Houston, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, both in the U.S. and abroad, albeit in smaller numbers.

The Garifuna are not new arrivals to the United States. "Migration is in our people's DNA," Amaya says. "The earliest Garifuna migration to the U.S. was after World War II, when we were recruited to work on the merchant marine ships supplying Europe during the war against the Axis powers. Garifuna weren't conscripted into the U.S. military, but many chose to remain in America after the war and never returned home. They sent for their families to join them."

Education was Amaya's path to the United States. He grew up on the Honduran coast, an outstanding student who became the first Garifuna to graduate with a degree in industrial-mechanical engineering from the National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa, the country's capital. There he met and married Rachel, another Garifuna student at the university. They have six children.

"I went to work for the Honduras government for ten years until I was offered an opportunity to work for a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor on projects in Latin America," he says. "Later, they decided I would be more useful to their work in Africa."

The contractor preferred that Amaya be U.S.-based, so the family moved to Philadelphia. He earned his master's degree in international development from the University of Pennsylvania.
 
The dramatic growth of the Hispanic/Latino population in the United States, captured in the censuses of 2000 and 2010, did not go unnoticed by America's political elites. Amaya remembers the raw opportunism and frantic attempts of both the Democratic and Republican parties to tap into what was perceived as a potential source of voters. Likewise, corporations, awakened to an emerging customer base and potential consumer market, began to look for Spanish-language spokespeople.
 
"I remember the lawyers all over the region where I live in Virginia running around, struggling with their broken Spanish to reach out to the Hispanic population because it was growing so fast."
 
According to the Census Bureau, Hispanics in the U.S. today number almost 60 million, more than 18 percent of the population. By 2050, that number is projected to rise to approximately 133 million, and Hispanics will comprise one-third of the population. Hispanics are "the nation's largest ethnic or racial minority," the Census Bureau reports, and ten states already have at least one million Hispanic residents.
 
For many Americans, the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" are interchangeable, but for purposes of the census "Hispanic" refers primarily to descendants of people from Mexico or other polities once under Spanish colonial rule, while "Latino" refers to the populations of Central and South America (Latin America), but includes Brazil, which was colonized by the Portuguese.
 
How the descendants of the millions of Africans forcibly imported into the New World defined themselves is rarely addressed. In some countries, Amaya explained, those who owned slaves included them in census responses as an indicator of wealth. After independence, "governments sought to present a whiter face to the world in order to attract European immigrants." The hierarchical color codes denoting mixed blood and status, with "black" at the bottom, were maintained as a social construct but discarded for purposes of the census.
 
"Wherever you go — and I've been around, in Latin America and Europe and lots of other places — it doesn't matter the type of regime, left  or right, democracy or autocracy or theocracy, black people are always in the same position, at the bottom of the economic ladder.
 
"And in my work, I have to look at those things and say, So why are we being sold the idea in Latin America that we're all the same, that we have the same rights, the same opportunities, yet we're always at the bottom? Nowhere is there anything close to a racial democracy. I came to the realization that it was a deliberate effort by the white Hispanic elite to keep the situation like that, and to inflate its [own] numbers."
 
With guidelines set by the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Census Bureau has tried to address the issue with a linguistic panacea of sorts. Hispanics and Latinos, according to the Census Bureau, are not a race but rather an ethnic group that can be of any race. The bureau notes that, "in 2000 and in 2010, the Some Other Race (SOR) population, which was intended to be a small residual category, was the third-largest race group. This was primarily due to Hispanics identifying with any of the OMB race categories. In addition, segments of other populations, such as Afro Caribbean and Middle Eastern or North African populations, did not identify with any of the OMB race categories and identified as SOR."
 
The 2020 census race categories will be the same as they were in 2010: white, black or Afro American, American Indian or Alaskan Native, and as many as eleven boxes to denote Asian.
 
In order to be recognized as Garfuna in the 2020 census, Amaya will have to write "Garifuna" or "Honduran" on the form under origin:Hispanic and then check the box for black or African American. Presumably, he will be counted as both. Amaya estimates that, when adding the Afro Latino population to the black/African American one, the combined percentage of the total U.S. population is probably closer to 20 percent.
 
At the same time, his insistence on raising the visibility of the Afro Latino presence in America has caused discomfort in some quarters. Indeed, he's been accused of being divisive when he points out that the diversity of the Hispanic/Latino population in the U.S. is not fully represented.
 
Amaya's letter to a Census Bureau director addressed "the concern increasingly voiced by millions in the Afro Latino community, a significant growing segment of the Hispanic population in the United States, which doesn't see itself recognized, equitably represented, and sharing equally in the benefits — including representation in government, employment services, and so on."
 
Locally, Amaya has been working with the District of Columbia's Complete Count Committee to ensure that Afro Latinos are counted in the 2020 census. During the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual legislative conference in September, he was a key organizer of a panel, "The Decade of the Diaspora: A Conversation on the Afro Descendant Experience in Latin America," hosted by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA). Actor Danny Glover was a speaker, as were several Garifuna activists. Although the event focused on the challenges and conditions of Afro Latino communities abroad, the question of identity resonated throughout the discussion.
 
In 2001, UNESCO recognized the Garifuna language, dance, and music of Belize and neighboring Honduras as a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangibles Heritage of Humanity." Spoken, Garifuna is a mellifluous tongue comprised of African dialects, Carib, Arawak, and elements of French.
 
Amaya is fluent in Garifuna and cites preservation of Garifuna language and culture as something most Garifuna are committed to. He is heartened by individuals like Ruben Reyes, who co-produced and starred in Garifuna in Peril, a film that portrays how modernity has affected Garifuna communities. Amaya sees the census as a valuable tool to foster Afro Latino and Garifuna unity and prosperity.
 
"We are promoting the inclusion of Afro-Latinos in census work," Amaya said. "I work to get the word out about the differences that exist on the census and the invisibility of the Afro-Latinos within the larger Hispanic population. 
 
"We have our challenges," he adds. But at the same time he trusts that Garifunas' "fierce resilience" will help chart their path forward.

Gilberto Amaya is working to make sure it does.
 
Khalil Abdullah is a former executive director of the National Black Caucus of State Legislators, a former editor/writer for New America Media, and a former managing editor of the Washington Afro Newspaper.

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