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Network for Black nonprofit directors to launch first chapter in Baltimore

Jade Nicole Neverdon Merritt: “The problem with executive directors is not specific to Baltimore. We know that this is a systemic problem.”

Jade Nicole Neverdon Merritt: “The problem with executive directors is not specific to Baltimore. We know that this is a systemic problem.”

Jade Nicole Neverdon Merritt wanted Black nonprofit directors in Baltimore and across the nation to have the support she didn’t have when she started her organization five years ago.

That’s why the founder and president of Mikey’s Miracle Foundation, a nonprofit that provides resources to both cancer patients and their family caregivers, is launching a network for Black leaders of nonprofits, known as the Black Executive Director’s, or BLK ED, Network.

Its programming will focus on three pillars: building community, providing professional development opportunities and increasing access to capital for Black-led nonprofits.

Being a Black executive director of a nonprofit can feel isolating, the network’s website notes, because Black people have long been shut out of the institutions that run nonprofits, even as those institutions aim to serve communities of color.

The funding gap between Black- and white-led organizations is also apparent; a 2019 report by the global nonprofit Echoing Green showed that, among early-stage social ventures that had raised funds, the median amount for a Black-led venture was $50,000, as compared with $75,000 for white-led ventures (and $100,000 for nonprofits led by white men, specifically). Studies have also shown that white-led nonprofits have larger operational budgets.

Merritt’s own nonprofit, which has been especially busy during the pandemic providing meals to the immune-compromised population it serves, has faced challenges with fundraising; 90% of its funds, she said, come from individual donors.

“That means we are hustling to acquire the funding because we’re not getting the funding that we need from some of the organizations that are based here in Baltimore,” she said, noting that at the organization’s largest fundraising event of the year in 2020, the annual Give More on 24 fundraiser, the organization raised over $20,000 from individual donors.

To address these disparities, Merritt hopes the BLK ED Network will be able to put executive directors in direct communication with funders through quarterly events. Other programming the network is planning includes monthly discussion opportunities; an annual conference; the BLK ED Hot Seat, an event in which a Black executive director would be able to get feedback on an idea from their peers; and Black Leadership Pods, which would allow nonprofit leaders with similar levels of experience to break off into their own spaces for conversation and collaboration.

The network will also offer mentorship opportunities.

The membership-based organization will have its first two virtual events, in partnership with Maryland Nonprofits, on July 14 and 28.

Heather Iliff, the president of Maryland Nonprofits, said that the organization is “really pleased to be partnering with the BLK ED Network, to see what Black executive directors’ needs are and how we can support the success of these critical community leaders.”

During these events, Merritt plans to connect with Maryland’s Black executive directors to learn more about what they want from the network.

Since the organization officially launched in June, some Black nonprofit directors have already begun reaching out to Merritt and the BLK ED Network with feedback. Overwhelmingly, she said, the biggest sentiment she’s received is simply appreciation for the very existence of the network.

“(They said) that this is needed. That it’s about time. That we need a network for us to begin to address some of the systemic issues that have plagued the nonprofit space for some time,” she said. “That was the feedback: ‘I’m ready. I can’t wait to be a part of this. I thought of this years ago, but I’m so glad you’re doing it.’”

Others have reached out to express an interest in starting their own nonprofits, or even just sitting down for a conversation with Merritt about their ideas, questions and concerns about the nonprofit sector in Maryland.

The official Baltimore chapter of the BLK ED Network, which will welcome members from across the state but will focus on the Baltimore metropolitan area, will launch in the fall. Merritt hopes to expand into other cities across the United States within the next few years.

“We know that this is very important work that’s needed throughout the country,” she said. “The problem with executive directors is not specific to Baltimore. We know that this is a systemic problem.”


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