Our Commitment to Supporting Nonprofit Leaders of Color

Rhett N Mabry crop

Rhett Mabry, President

The Duke Endowment believes strongly in racial equity, diversity and inclusion. This belief inspires us to strive to be intentional about the role we can play to address and mitigate racial and economic disparities. As we continue on our journey of learning and improving, we apply a racial equity lens to our internal operations and our grantmaking across our four program areas: Child and Family Well-Being, Health Care, Higher Education and Rural Church.

And now the application of that lens has led us to the Investing in Leaders of Color initiative, a leadership and capacity building project to support the work of leaders who serve communities of color throughout North Carolina and South Carolina. 

Tamika Williams

Tamika Williams, Associate Director, Child & Family Well-Being

Tamika and I want to take a moment to share the why behind our investment in this initiative, our hopes and goals, and what we anticipate learning from the inaugural group of Fellows and our partners.

When I took on the role of President at the Endowment in 2016, I went on a listening tour, seeking to hear perspectives from the Endowment staff as well as foundation leaders throughout North Carolina and South Carolina. As stewards of James B. Duke’s tremendous investment in the two states, it is imperative that we use our resources to relentlessly focus on impact.

I wanted to understand what impact – a term too often used casually — really meant and could mean to communities, especially when approached with even more intentionality to drive outcomes. Through those conversations, I came to understand that of the many ways we could define and achieve impact, no plan would be comprehensive without addressing racial inequity and the disparate outcomes it produces. I also heard from my colleagues that investments in communities of color needed to increase, become more of a priority, and be more strategic.

Perhaps my biggest aha” moment from this listening tour came in the form of an observation. In my conversations with foundation leaders, I grew to understand and appreciate that their local nonprofits are often proximate to communities of color, with a connection and service to their community that results in deep trust. In turn, this trust between communities and the local nonprofits not only supports their work, but it also bolsters outcomes. This realization was further underscored for me by our COVID-19 relief efforts, in which we forged new and fruitful partnerships with nonprofits outside our traditional grantmaking circles to gain proximity to hard-hit communities of color.

I realized that our opportunities — and impact — are diminished without that level of trust and an inherent understanding that as a philanthropic foundation, we are here to help.

Internally, we asked: Could the Endowment take action to the extent necessary to have the level of impact we know is needed? Certainly, we can and do invest in racial equity, diversity and inclusion. However, it was clear that despite our efforts, we — as an individual foundation — lacked the tools and resources to have a deeper, more significant impact. Without intentionality and tapping into the collective we” among our peers in philanthropy, we would continue to struggle with how best to support and work with often under-resourced communities and the nonprofits that serve them.

We began talking with other funders throughout the Carolinas about pooling resources and developing an approach to build a broader, stronger ecosystem of support for nonprofit leaders of color, many of whom wield enormous influence within their communities yet haven’t been given access within the larger world of philanthropy. How could we be more proximal to communities that have been marginalized?

Through these ongoing conversations, a collaboration of 12 foundations* in North Carolina and South Carolina developed. We are energized by the relationships that our diverse group of partners has with nonprofits and communities that the Endowment may not have had on our radar. Now, we will.

Together, we are creating an innovative experience that we hope will meet their needs, but also demonstrate that we want to go beyond expectations. We can do better, and it is incumbent upon us to move beyond words. Knowing that our aspirational intentions needed structure and management, we engaged John Simpkins and his team with MDC. His deep experience in this arena has taken the idea from initial conversations to the Fellowship program in place today.

Tamika, an Associate Director at the Endowment and a strong advocate for racial equity, is helping me coordinate the Endowment’s contribution. Tamika and I can say that it is our hope to not only learn more about these nonprofits, but also to gain even more understanding about a characteristic built into their DNA: trust. How can we continue to cultivate trust, harnessing it to increase our capacity for intentional impact?

We also fully anticipate that the funder will become the student. All of us expect to learn from the inaugural (and each subsequent) cohort of 12 leaders of color and, in turn, grow in ways that will have a positive impact on our processes, our relationships and our grantmaking. And of course, the insights we gain from these Fellows will also influence the subsequent four years of this fellowship program. 

Additionally, we will find ways to increase access for nonprofit leaders of color, provide long-term funding for sustainability, and strengthen the argument for why philanthropy should be deeply invested in this work.

We believe that by engaging in this work and showing up in new ways, we are collectively positioning ourselves to broaden our philanthropic reach and improve impact. We’re extremely optimistic about what the future holds — for all of us.

*Participating Foundations

  1. Anonymous Trust
  2. BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Foundation
  3. Coastal Community Foundation of South Carolina
  4. Dogwood Health Trust
  5. Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust
  6. Mary Black Foundation
  7. North Carolina Community Foundation
  8. Self Family Foundation
  9. Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina
  10. The Duke Endowment
  11. Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation