Robin Hood PowerFund

Investing in Non-Profit Leaders of Color What We’ve Learned

Investing in Non-Profit Leaders of Color







Broadening funder networks and building greater transpar- ency about funding priorities can help build better funding pathways for organizations led by people of color. White staff members have historically accounted for the overwhelming majority of U.S. foundation presidents, full-time executive staff and program officers 2 . Similarly, 68% of all foundation program officers are white and 84% of all board members of nonprofits and foundations are also white 3 . This lack of diversity has an impact on the grantmaking process. Potential partners are often sourced from social networks and personal relationships, which can translate into people of color having difficulties receiving funding or scaling their programs. Through the Power Fund, we strived to broaden our networks and expand the pipeline of potential partners through a variety of methods. Staff asked for input from existing community partner organizations with leaders of color and funders with a focus on supporting nonprofits at an early stage of development. Our pipeline broadened through Robin Hood’s COVID-19 Relief Fund. That Fund allowed for a large-scale open application process which brought in more than 1,900 applications, including nearly 30% that were new to Robin Hood. This list was reviewed to identify prospective leaders and organizations as a potential fit for the Power Fund. The process of building new sourcing strategies and intentionally expanding our referral pathways helped to expand our network and pipeline of potential partner organizations.

Investing in capacity strengthening and general operating support is critical to long-term success. The Power Fund provided our partners with over $750,000 in Management Assistance grants alongside pro bono support. 70% of all Power Fund partners received funding for capacity building, spanning 32 distinct projects. In addition, 68% of Power Fund grant dollars provided general operating support. This funding allowed organizations to invest in hiring key personnel including leadership and to prioritize data and evaluation capacity that supports the long-term stability and success of organizations. Our Management Assistance and general operating support were most beneficial to organizations with a smaller footprint who were less likely to have access to the resources needed to ensure growth and stability. Our partnership helped raise the profile of these organizations to get added funding that had not been available to them previously. These lessons will inform the Management Assistance team’s efforts in the next phase of the Power Fund, as well as with our entire portfolio of grantees.

Providing investment over a longer time frame enables greater impact and increases the likelihood of lasting change. Our inaugural Power Fund grants provided support over 12-18 months. While our grantees took full advantage of the services offered through the Fund, additional time is required for organizations to ramp up programs or see the full impact of hiring key staff members with our support. In addition, many of our partners also chose to stagger their Management Assistance resources over a period of time. Since our first Power Fund investments, we have renewed funding for 80% of our Power Fund partners. These organizations demonstrated meaningful progress during their initial grant period. We recognize that they, like many partner organizations in our portfolio, need sufficient time to achieve their goals and deepen their work in the communities they serve. Some community partner organizations successfully achieved grant-funded activities intended only for a discrete time period and renewals were not necessary. In a handful of cases, we did not renew funding because an organization was not able to fully use Robin Hood funding or was not able to achieve reasonable progress.

Supporting the pipeline of leaders of color beyond the CEO or executive director can help build future leaders and strengthen leadership teams. One of our goals with the inaugural cohort of the Power Fund was to support experienced and new leaders. While staff of nonprofits may reflect the communities they serve, people of color are less likely to be in senior leadership positions according to research from Nonprofit New York, Candid and SeaChange Capital Partners. The Power Fund included funding to support the ongoing professional development of the CEO or executive director of each partner organization. But we began receiving requests to support other leaders within the organizations and quickly realized that providing professional develop- ment for the broader leadership team, including middle managers, was more effective than restricting support to a single person. By broadening our approach, we deepened the capacity of the organization as a whole and helped strengthen the talent pipeline. The expanded offerings ranged from coaching for leaders throughout our partner organizations and cohort training for middle managers to support their growth.


There is still significant work to be done. Organizations with leaders of color continue to face barriers in accessing both philanthropic and government resources. To ensure our efforts continue to be a space for learning and growth, we continue to set specific goals to source high-impact organizations led by people of color and to gather demographic data on leadership team composition. These checkpoints create transparency and accountability in our work and enable us to share strategies and benchmarking data with other philanthropies that similarly look to broaden their traditional sourcing and funding approaches.

2  ‘D5 State of the Work 2016.’ Accessed July 9, 2023. pages.pdf 3  Cheryl Dorsey, Peter Kim, Cora Daniels, Lyell Sakaue, and Britt Savage, “Overcoming the Racial Bias in Philanthropic Funding,” Stanford SOCIAL INNOVATION Review, May 4, 2020. D5 Coalition.

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