Report: Racial Equity in KY's Nonprofit Sector

Nonprofit organizations engage with diverse community partners to create a more sustainable, equitable future. As the state association of charitable nonprofits, committed to our mission of empowering nonprofits to strengthen Kentucky, Kentucky Nonprofit Network (KNN) saw an important opportunity to lead efforts and partner with nonprofits to address the racial inequities in and inherent with our sectorThe goal of this work is to help organizations build on the core strengths of diversity, equity, and inclusion - making space for greater client trust and engagement; larger employee, board and volunteer pools; better collaboration and decision-making; and stronger results. KNN strives to engage nonprofits across Kentucky in strategies that will increase representation, access and inclusion for people of color.

To guide us in this work, KNN convened the Nonprofit Racial Equity Task Force in January 2021. With the expert counsel at the firm Decide Diversity, the Task Force facilaited a survey to collect Kentucky-specific data on the current state of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in the nonprofit sector.

As valued and recognized leaders in communities across Kentucky, nonprofits can play an essential role in engaging Kentuckians in the movement for social and racial equity. KNN invites nonprofits to join us and the Task Force in learning, taking action, and leading change.




Mirroring the Building Movement Project's "Race to Lead" study, the majority of the 120 nonprofit leaders responding to this survey were white women. According to the National Council of Nonprofits' "Nonprofit Impact Matters" report, 72% of US charitable nonprofits are led by women. Respondents to this survey represented organizations is 118 of Kentucky's 120 counties. Key areas that emerged as immediate opportunities for KNN and the Nonprofit Sector Task Force to empower and partner with nonprofits across Kentucky to advance racial equity include:

  • Support and resources for smaller organizations: 51% of survey respondents have staff of ten employees or less. 54% have annual operating budgets of less than $1 million. These respondents mirror Kentucky's larger nonprofit sector as detailed in KNN’s More Than Charity Report 2020. These respondents were the least likely to have racially diverse staff members or have a staffing strategy inclusive of diversity. A quarter of these smaller organizations also report they do not have a board member who identifies as a person of color.

  • Engaging organizations led by people of color: 11% of survey respondents reported being a nonprofit leader of color. Gaining the perspective and representation of these nonprofit leaders is essential to moving from discussion to action. The future work of the Task Force will explore strategies for increasing connections with nonprofit leaders of color from across the state.

  • Making the case for racial equity efforts: Some survey respondents reported being unconcerned with racial equity efforts, or do not believe they "need" diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies at their organization. 57% of respondents reported not having or not sure if their organization has a racial equity strategy. A large number of respondents reported being “not sure” of any increase in the number of volunteers (21%) or program participants (23%) who were people of color – indicating a lack of vital data collection. This presents an important opportunity to help Kentucky's nonprofit leaders understand the potential the sector has to impact positive change in our communities, as well as enhance their own operations and future success.

  • Nonprofits are seeking racial equity resources: Survey respondents indicated a pressing need for additional racial equity resources, particularly in the areas of board recruitment (59%), training (53%) and volunteer recruitment strategies (51%). A number of respondents also note they ar enot sure how to access resoeurces to diversify their suppliers or vendors.


Click to watch a recording of our Virtual Press Conference (May 6, 2021) - introducing the Nonprofit Racial Equity Task Force and providing a high-level view of the survey results.
Click to watch a recording of our Let's Talk Equity call (May 6, 2021) - providing a deeper dive into the survey results and sharing details on the next steps.



These survey results confirm the need to support nonprofits at various stages of addressing racial equity in their organizations. Organizations with diversity strategies prioritize different equity issues within their strategies, and most - if not all - organizations still have room for growth in terms of overall diversity in staffing, board governance, volunteers, program participants, donors and funders, and suppliers. The number of respondents indicating that they are seeking additional resources and support is promising.

As a next step, KNN held a series of listening sessions in Spring 2021 focused on four of the key diversity gaps identified by the survey: staffing, board governance, programming, and volunteerism. These expanded listening sessions broadened the conversation to include more voices - staff, board members and volunteers, and gained the perspective of more in the nonprofit community, especially: smaller nonprofit organizations; nonprofit leaders of color; organizations who are just beginning to develop their DEI strategies; and organizations who are seeking to understand the business case of DEI.

Using the feedback and information from the survey and listening sessions, KNN strives to empower nonprofits to broaden access to opportunity, education, enrichment, employment and services - to actively champion equity across every aspect of the nonprofit sector.  Two important next steps include:

  • Prioritizing actions for individual organizations and the collective nonprofit sector to advance this work. This includes curating and creating recommended practice resources, tools, and training, as well as establishing collaborative partnerships. If you want to be sure you receive information on these resources to help your nonprofit take action, please click here to join this email list.

  • Collaborating with other partners to curate resources to help nonprofits diversify their suppliers and vendors.


​​The launch of the Nonprofit Racial Equity Task Force and this survey are first steps of an ongoing journey that KNN will take with our nonprofit colleagues and the communities and Kentuckians nonprofits serve. KNN embraces both the challenges and the successes uncovered in this report. We invite nonprofits across Kentucky to join us in listening, learning, taking action, and leading change.



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