The 10 cohort members. Top row from the left: Jahnice Cajigas, Antonio Coles, Frankie Douglass, Chanelle Goldson, Christian Aviles. Bottom row from the left: Victoria Massey, Ala Ochumare, Landon Osborn, Nicole Sanclemente, Kimani Sioux Williams. Courtesy of Dexter Atlas and The Community Foundation of Greater New Haven

After noticing an increased retirement rate among local nonprofit executives, The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven launched an initiative to equip a diverse new generation of professionals with the tools they need to take the helm. 

Today, the 10 individuals selected from local nonprofits to be a part of the inaugural group of the “BIPOC Cohort for Nonprofit Leadership” will begin their first official day of programming. Over the course of nine months, these aspiring leaders will attend sessions focusing on the ins and outs of nonprofit management, finances and strategic development — all a part of a curriculum designed in partnership with the University of Connecticut’s Department of Public Policy. The program will then include a period of mentorship and application, bringing its total length to two years. 

Through the initiative, the Community Foundation hopes to empower professionals of color in middle management positions to take on future executive or board roles and diversify leadership in the nonprofit sector.

“There’s a trend, particularly now post pandemic, of executive transition, with lots of executive directors moving on,” said Jackie Downing, director of Grantmaking and Nonprofit Support at the Community Foundation. “The landscape of nonprofit leadership is predominantly white. We want the leadership to be more reflective of our community, and this transition is the time to do that — to help future POC leaders feel confident, comfortable, skilled and ready to take these positions.”

During the training program, which is planned to be fully in person, a number of local experts in the nonprofit sector — many of whom are people of color — will deliver lectures on their experiences and skill sets.

David Garvey, director of the Nonprofit Leadership Program under UConn’s Department of Public Policy, was one of the two co-leads involved in structuring the curriculum. He explained that the educational program for the cohort will cover the fundamentals of managing a nonprofit. Lessons will include nonprofit governance structures, accounting, fund development, program evaluation and marketing. 

“The general goal is to take these emerging leaders and help them expand their skill set so they can move up in the nonprofit sector,” Garvey told the News. “There’ll be a strong amount of discussion, and then after each class we’re having a reflection period where we talk about … the whole aspect of equity in nonprofits.”

The 10 members of the cohort, whose names were announced in August, come from a diverse range of local nonprofits and community organizations, including Citywide Youth Coalition, Columbus House, New Haven Pride Center and Fair Haven Community Care.

Downing shared that the Community Foundation has invested $200,000 into the first year of the program, $150,000 of which will go directly to the organizations that cohort members come from in order to compensate for their absence, as the cohort members will all take a temporary leave from their positions for at least the first nine months of the program.

The rest of the funding will cover remaining costs, such as the UConn contract, parking, snacks and workshop materials. A separate $150,000 has been put aside by the Community Foundation for the second year.

After the nine months of the educational course concludes in May 2022, each member of the cohort will return to their organization and lead an evaluation of their nonprofit using the Core Capacity Assessment Tool. According to Downing, the participants will conduct the assessment and work with the test’s facilitators to analyze the results. Then, through the fall of 2022, they will be expected to use a grant of $5,000 from the Community Foundation to make substantive organizational changes in response to the assessment’s findings.

The final stage of the two-year program is still undergoing planning, but will likely involve group projects or a mentorship program between participants and presenters, Downing said.

Per an Aug. 31 press release by the Community Foundation, participants in the program will all receive “undergraduate or graduate credit and a $1,000 scholarship toward future studies at UConn.”

This program receives its funding as part of the Community Foundation’s larger Stepping Forward philanthropic initiative. Launched at the beginning of this year, Stepping Forward consists of a number of new grant programs intended to advance racial equity and counter the social impacts of the pandemic — the “BIPOC Cohort for Nonprofit Leadership” is one of several initiatives supporting community leadership by people of color.

Landon Osborn, one of the members of the cohort, sees this program as having the potential to improve the relationship between local nonprofits and residents.

“It’s important to connect to the community and the people that we serve, especially in the city of New Haven,” Osborn said. “If clients can then feel like their providers are a reflection of them … the likelihood to seek services and to be more comfortable with services increases.” 

Osborn is the program manager for Connecting Through Literacy: Incarcerated Parents, Their Children, and Caregivers — a nonprofit that provides services such as support groups and literacy mentorship for families of those living in incarceration. CLICC aims to use its services to strengthen bonds within these families.

He shared that when he first heard about the cohort program, he was already considering getting a certification at UConn in the same department that designed the program’s curriculum. Throughout these next two years, Osborn hopes to sharpen his business and leadership skills, and “take a leap to being a director … or creating [his] own nonprofit.”

Cohort member Christian Aviles, who works as director of college access and persistence at educational support group Squash Haven, also shared his aspirations to take on future directorial or board positions. He told the News that he hopes the program, beyond simply helping him grow as an individual, will also build valuable relationships within the local nonprofit community.

“Ultimately, what motivated me to apply for the program was really just the opportunity to really get to know other people in New Haven,” Aviles said. “I’ve just always been moved by the power of the nonprofit world here in New Haven … I’m really excited as part of this program to learn more about how we can harness the power of that community to impact meaningful, positive change in the lives of the people we all work with.”

In January 2021, The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven announced a commitment of $26 million dollars to their new Stepping Forward initiative.

Sylvan Lebrun reports on City Hall. She previously covered nonprofits and social services in the New Haven area. She is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College majoring in English.