Nonprofit Sector

Reflections on a Most Worthy and Exciting Journey

December 14, 2022

Headshot of Henry A. J. Ramos, wearing a blue collared shirt and dark blue blazer in front of an ivy wall.

At the fast-approaching end of this year, I will complete my service as the Board Chair of Nonprofit Finance Fund. When I first joined NFF’s Board nearly a decade ago, I was deeply impressed by NFF’s work. It was already a leading voice advocating for friendlier funding practices for nonprofits, and for righting the power imbalances between nonprofits and those who fund them. Yet, despite NFF’s effective, vital work, there was an important component missing: a focus on advancing racial equity. 

In my early years on NFF’s Board, I was one of the few non-finance professionals to serve as a Board member. I was also the only Latinx community representative and one of only a few Board members living and working outside of the Northeastern or Midwestern US. 

Our staff was overwhelmingly white and the products of relatively conventional finance and elite higher educational backgrounds. 

Our work was, as it always has been, forward leaning and innovative in fields ranging from the arts and education to healthcare and social services. But the majority of the organizations we worked with then were white-led nonprofits with budgets of at least $2 million and a lot of established history and access in the social investment space. 

We were a leading and successful organization, to be sure; but we were missing so much of what our increasingly multicultural society was evolving towards. We were missing essential leadership, lived experience, and reach in the places and spaces that were most in need and on the front lines of America’s growing racial and economic divides.  

In subsequent years, as I ascended to lead our Board Governance Committee and then to serve as NFF’s Board Chair, we made intentional strides to change the equation. In addition to financing knowledge, we strategically added racial, geographical, experiential, and professional diversity assets to our Board ranks that expanded our framing of the issues, our ties to multicultural community partnerships, and our inclination to innovate. 

Now, NFF’s Board is comprised of over 60 percent people of color. It is far more geographically representative. And its competencies both include and extend well beyond the conventional finance skills sets of our past to areas including leadership development, higher education, impact investing, social enterprise, and direct community investment.  

Over recent years, our staff’s racial diversity has more than doubled, to nearly 70 percent of our total head count, and 60 percent of our leadership. Our strategic focus has shifted to prioritize smaller, more community-centered nonprofits led by and serving people of color. And we have moved to become much more responsive community lenders and partners, at times even offering 0 [zero] percent interest on loans responding to the most urgent challenges of our times—like the recent COVID crisis that has beset so many front-line nonprofits in particularly impacted communities. All of these intentional changes are letting us both champion and respond to the needs of organizations led by and serving people of color, which have often been excluded from traditional funding and financing channels. We are following the lead of community networks and leaders in how we support organizations from South Los Angeles to Denver to New York. 

As we have transformed our organization and approach in so many ways, donors are recognizing the value we can provide in advancing racial equity in nonprofit funding flows. Major new investments from donors including Mackenzie Scott, Ford Foundation, and Hilton Foundation, among other sources, have given us the opportunity to be bolder than we’ve ever been in crafting a strategy that supports racial equity, and in standing up as a thought leader and advocate for social justice in nonprofit funding.  

I’m excited to be handing off leadership of the NFF Board to Georgette Wong, who has served on our board for three years, brings 30 years of impact investing, social sector, and finance experience to our team, and will be the first Asian American/Pacific Islander to serve as Board Chair in NFF’s 40+ year history. And our Board has recently recruited and retained its first permanent CEO of color, Aisha Benson—an African American woman with deep executive and relational roots in both community and the CDFI field. 

With Aisha Benson and Georgette Wong at the helm and with a dramatically transformed Board and staff, committed partners, and dedicated funders behind them, Nonprofit Finance Fund is well-poised to accelerate impact to meet urgent needs and opportunity -- to help mission-driven organizations adapt, thrive, and drive positive change in these historic and consequential times. 

Comparing the NFF I first joined and the NFF of today, the organization is vastly transformed in who it serves, how it shows up for clients/communities, and who leads and staffs the organization. And this ongoing transformation has made us better able to respond to the most pressing issues of our time. As we look back at what we've accomplished over recent years, my greatest satisfaction is that the work we've done has made NFF better able to meet our mission of improving the way money flows to community-centered organizations led by and serving people of color. And we’re poised to do even more. 

It has been my great privilege and pleasure to play a leading role in setting the stage for the vital work that is still to come. And to have an NFF that, in its greater diversity, is much better positioned to build trusted relationships that will benefit the organizations and communities we serve. I offer my deepest thanks to the many people, from across our leadership and staff, to our partnership circles, and to our investor relations (both present and past), who have done their essential part to make it all possible. 

Looking ahead, I see a continuing leading role for Nonprofit Finance Fund as our sector and society strive to realize a better, more inclusive, and more productive future to come. It has been, and it remains, a most worthy and exciting journey to be on.  

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