Leaning In on Diverse and Inclusive Nonprofit Leadership

The Institute for Nonprofit Practice

The Boston Foundation was “there at the beginning”
for the Institute for Nonprofit Practice and has
supported it with some $1 million in grants over the last 10 years.

In 2007, Barry Dym was a consultant to nonprofits when he observed that there was very little diversity in the ranks of senior management. That realization contributed to his founding of the Institute for Nonprofit Management and Leadership. The Boston Foundation was “there at the beginning” with a $75,000 seed grant.

The Institute for Nonprofit Practice's Community Fellows Program is for social justice oriented emerging leaders with a focus on advancing people of color. 

Today, concerns about diversity in the nonprofit workforce have gained urgency for Greater Boston. Interest in the issue was reflected by the hundreds of nonprofit stakeholders who attended a forum on October 18 at the Boston Foundation titled Race to Lead: Confronting the Nonprofit Racial Leadership Gap

The forum, which was co-hosted by Barr Foundation, focused on the need for vastly increased diversity in nonprofit leadership and the inclusion of people of color at every organizational level. Co-Directors of The Building Movement Project shared research showing that nationally less than 20 percent of nonprofit CEOs or executive directors are people of color, a figure that hasn’t changed for more than a decade. And many of those organizations primarily serve communities of color. They summarized the problem as being fed by systemic biases and maintained by hidebound structural barriers. 

Jennifer Aronson

Contact Associate Vice President for Programs Jennifer Aronson to learn more our Nonprofit Effectiveness work.

Orlando Watkins, the Boston Foundation’s Vice President for Programs, pointed out that 78 percent of nonprofit leaders expect to leave their organizations—either to retire or to move on to another leadership position—by 2020. “This huge change gives the Boston Foundation a real opportunity to lean in on this issue and challenge the structural barriers,” he said, imploring those gathered to join in the work. “It’s not a nice to do,” he added. “It’s a must do.”

The forum was inspired by the Boston Foundation’s Nonprofit Effectiveness strategy, which supports and promotes effective, inclusive and sustainable nonprofits in Greater Boston. “Nonprofit leaders are the primary drivers of change in the organizations and communities they serve,” says Jennifer Aronson, Associate Vice President for Programs. “Our goal is to support, develop and recognize the nonprofit sector’s leaders and to build the sector’s leadership pipeline.”


Today, the Institute for Nonprofit Management and Leadership is called the Institute for Nonprofit Practice (INP) and the Boston Foundation has supported it with just under $1 million in grants over the last 10 years. 

INP Class
INP's year-long programs are part-time and designed for working professionals.  Graduates receive a certificate in management and leadership from Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. 

Dym put the Institute’s values into practice when he selected Yolanda Coentro, an alumna and then-COO of the Institute, to succeed him as President and CEO. Now based in Needham and affiliated with Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life, INP offers a Core Certificate Program for managers and executives and a Community Fellows Program for social justice oriented emerging leaders with a focus on advancing people of color early in their careers. INP’s year-long programs are part-time and designed for working professionals. Graduates receive an affordable certificate in management and leadership from Tufts’ Tisch College.

The organization’s motto is: Study, Practice, Reflect. Repeat. “Many nonprofit leaders rise to their roles because they’re talented and good at their jobs, but they don’t necessarily have the training they need to be effective leaders,” says Coentro. “That’s what INP provides to its highly diverse group of students.” 

Coentro adds: “A commitment to diversity and to including people of color and women at all levels of nonprofit work is woven into everything we do. It’s really beyond a commitment for us; it’s an imperative.”


Yi-Chin Chen went through the INP program and today is executive director of Friends of the Children Boston. She met Barry Dym when she worked at Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF) and he was just beginning his work in the area of nonprofit leadership. After many years of working her way through the ranks at HSTF, Chen served as interim executive director during an executive transition and then decided to move on to seek a permanent leadership position. 

Yi Chin Chen
INP alumna Yi-Chin Chen values what she calls the program's unique focus on teaching nonprofit leaders to be self-reflective in everything they do.  "I practice it every day." 

At first, it was a daunting prospect. “I looked across the sector and saw only one or two people who looked like me in leadership positions,” says Chen. “My first two weeks on the job were almost overwhelming. But INP had provided me with technical and tangible skills I use every day—from how to read a balance sheet to board development. You don’t start running without running shoes; INP gave me what I needed to do this job.” 

Chen also values what she calls INP’s unique focus on teaching nonprofit leaders to be self-reflective in everything they do. “I practice it every day.” And she is paying forward the advantages she had. “Every year I select a staff member of color and invest in their learning. I consider it a core part of our professional development.” 

Just as important to the tools INP gave Chen is that it continues to nurture alumni and links them together through an expansive network of fellow graduates. Chen says, “I don’t think I’d have the confidence, the will or the heart to be doing what I’m doing if I didn’t have this community.” 

Today, that community includes more than 1,000 people. “Many of them were my classmates and now are colleagues at other organizations. They are my network. It challenges the idea that leadership has to be lonely.”