Date Approved


Graduate Degree Type


Degree Name

Social Innovation (M.A.)

Degree Program

Integrative, Religious, and Intercultural Studies

First Advisor

Melanie Shell-Weiss

Academic Year




This paper draws on a series of four in-depth interviews with African American executives who lead large non-profit organizations in West Michigan to argue that Black men and women in particular, and people of color more generally, experience a concrete ceiling to nonprofit leadership. The analysis is guided by a social innovation framework. In this case, that includes identifying the intervention needed (symptom to cause), designing methods (imagining solutions), developing solutions (prototyping), creating a plan to systemically innovate (recalibrating the nonprofit leadership pipeline for people of color and in particular, Black people), and scaling the plan (organizational growth and replication of the innovation beyond west Michigan) to sustain these possible solutions. Beginning with an overview of recently published literature on non-profit leadership and a summary of primary research findings, the work concludes with a summary plan for training curriculum that could be implemented to address systemic issues within the nonprofit ecosystem and create actionable solutions to more equitable nonprofit leadership opportunities.


Johnson Center for Philanthropy

Grand Rapids Community Foundation