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We Strengthen Communities by Investing in People

Co-authored by Matt Gayer, Executive Director of Spur Local, and Danielle M. Reyes, President & CEO of the Crimsonbridge Foundation 

At the beginning of every year, Spur Local surveys the Executive Directors in its network of local nonprofits operating with small budgets and teams to gain insight into their personal, professional, and organizational well-being. In 2023, more than half of the 95 leaders surveyed were currently, on their way to, or were recently feeling a sense of burnout. They reported a lack of staff capacity as one of their top two challenges. Across the rest of the year, difficulties with staff and leaders running at or over capacity continued to emerge as a foundational problem for our sector and our partners.

Many headlines mention “fighting” or “struggling” to characterize local nonprofit efforts to provide and advocate for stronger safety net services; efforts which increasingly involve meeting growing needs, without the growth of funding. As part of this narrative, we must recognize as a sector that people power this work. The effects of nonprofit leadership burnout can further exacerbate an already acute workforce shortage, and are inextricably tied to the health of our society.  

Strong and successful organizations are well-led, and it is leaders who build this sustainable infrastructure. Investing in the nonprofit sector requires an investment in its people.  

This is why Spur Local partners with the Crimsonbridge Foundation and its LeaderBridge initiative to provide local nonprofit leaders access to leadership development, with an intentional focus on creating programming and space for leaders of color. As the Washington Area Women’s Foundation recently reported, Black women and Black gender-expansive leaders in our region face a fundamental and pervasive absence of trust in their leadership. 

Recognizing that leaders of color require spaces within our sector to connect, support, learn from, and share resources with each other, Spur Local designed two cohort offerings for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) Executive Directors and emerging leaders. Across six sessions, local leaders of color engage in facilitated peer conversations about topics that are relevant to them, forming meaningful connections. 

“At this point, we know the data about nonprofit leader burnout and exhaustion, and that it is even higher amongst leaders of color in our sector,”

says Matt Gayer, Executive Director of Spur Local.

“Our cohorts seek to offer a safe space for learning, connection, support—and the room to have conversations that nonprofit leaders often do not have access to.” 

Historically, declines in charitable giving—the predominant trend of late—have affected smaller nonprofit organizations more significantly than larger ones. Similarly, issues with accessing institutional funding are particularly pronounced for organizations with small and one-person teams, many of which are led by Black women and leaders of color. When a commitment to racial equity in philanthropy includes funding leadership development, it improves equity of access for leaders of color—to networks, resources, and relationships that they can use not just to sustain themselves and their organizations but to thrive. 

“For funders considering strategies that build equity in the nonprofit sector, increasing investments in leadership development and network building are essential,”

says Danielle M. Reyes, President & CEO of the Crimsonbridge Foundation.

“LeaderBridge was drawn to Spur Local because of the community building work they have done and their intentionality to create spaces for nonprofit leaders of color and underrepresented communities in the Greater Washington region.” 

Since our partnership began in 2022, over 100 leaders have participated in Spur Local’s BIPOC Executive Director and Emerging Leader cohorts and joined the LeaderBridge Network. Of recent surveyed cohorts, one hundred percent of respondents agreed that the topics discussed in the cohort were relevant to their work and that their conversations helped identify practices or approaches to help them better overcome challenges in the future. Respondents also agreed that this programming specifically addresses concerns as a leader of color. These early results demonstrate interest, demand, and value of this work.  

As a sector, let's ensure the resilience and sustainability of nonprofit organizations with investments in people power. By removing barriers to access and increasing the availability of leadership development programs, leaders, organizations, and the communities they serve will thrive. 

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