Bo LiFollow

Author ORCID Identifier


Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Management and Policy

First Advisor

Mirae Kim

Second Advisor

John Thomas

Third Advisor

Jessica Sowa

Fourth Advisor

Juree Capers


This dissertation examines whether and how leaders’ race/ethnicity influences organizational practices in the nonprofit sector, considering both executive directors (EDs) and nonprofit boards as leaders. The topic has gained growing significance because of the prevalence of a nonprofit racial/ethnic leadership gap and the demographic shift in US society. Drawing on upper echelon theory, representative bureaucracy theory, and the theory of networks, I constructed an integrated framework to guide empirical tests of four aspects: financing practices, diversity management, inter-organizational collaboration, and recruitment.

Combining data from an original online survey of human service nonprofits in Georgia with Form 990 tax data and US Census data, I identified differences in management practices based on the racial/ethnic composition of nonprofit leaders. First, nonprofits governed by majority-POC boards experience more challenges in resource development and have a less diversified revenue structure. They are also more likely to rely on government support and less on donations. Second, nonprofits governed by a racially/ethnically diverse board are more likely to engage in diversity management. The racial/ethnic composition of the board also relates to an ED’s attitudes toward diversity: EDs of color hold more positive attitudes toward diversity than White EDs when working with White-dominated boards, while White EDs value diversity more when the board is POC-dominated. Third, nonprofits with racially/ethnically diverse boards are more active in inter-organizational collaboration.

The survey data also shows that POC-led nonprofits are more likely to have POC as employees, a finding consistent with existing evidence. To further investigate the cause, I conducted an online survey experiment and found that while people rate POC-led nonprofits higher on valuing different perspectives and being committed to diversity, they would choose to work for White-led nonprofits over otherwise comparable POC-led nonprofits if given the option. These results highlight current challenges experienced by POC and POC-led nonprofits in the hiring process, providing valuable insights for ongoing discussions about racial diversity in the nonprofit sector.

This dissertation enriches our understanding of racial diversity in nonprofit leadership. With future research, I plan to continue the exploration by connecting the findings to measures of organizational outcomes.