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Kresge launches Thrive Leaders Network to support BIPOC leaders with $500K grant


What do you do when the job you’ve prepared for your entire career suddenly doesn’t look the same? When an assortment of unique issues beyond your control, including the “Great Resignation,” political, social, and global health crises, make the day-to-day job almost unrecognizable from what you signed up for?

Despite the upheaval of the pandemic, many Kresge partners who serve as executive directors or chief executive officers in the postsecondary nonprofit sector continue to wrestle with new and unexpected daily demands. These leaders must maintain or expand programming, fundraise, champion organizational culture and values, and become managers of pandemic operations, staffing shortages, and so much more.

Unsurprisingly, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) leaders are experiencing heightened stress while navigating these responsibilities in a time of racial unrest and working in isolation. They need flexible support, opportunities for renewal and growth, and chances to connect with other leaders in similar positions.

This is the feedback heard directly from partners that led to many in-depth discussions at Kresge and ultimately a decision to programmatically support these leaders in a new way.

Kresge’s Education Program partnered with a consultant to survey more than 20 BIPOC postsecondary nonprofit leaders to learn firsthand about their leadership and diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges and opportunities with the goal of using this information to help inform how our program could best support grantees. In response, the Education Program is launching the Thrive Leaders Network with a $500,000 grant in unrestricted funds to support leaders of color.

Creating Space for Our Partners’ Voices

Thrive is designed to provide grantee leaders of color in the Education Program portfolio and other partners with flexible leadership enrichment resources to support their sustainability and growth as sector leaders.

The program provides $10,000 unrestricted stipends to support the leadership and wellbeing of 40 executive directors over the course of one year. Cohort members lead all types of organizations, from direct services nonprofits to policy shops, think tanks, and organizations focused explicitly on improving racial equity in higher education. Participating leaders can opt to receive coaching support and participate in a cohort-based learning series to build community, strengthen skills, and help navigate the challenges and opportunities of leading college access and success organizations during challenging times.

Each leader will have the opportunity to use his or her unrestricted stipend to pay for their current executive coach if they have one or receive support to identify and pay for a coach if they want one. Funds can also be used to subsidize wellness and professional development experiences like fellowships, and travel to conferences or other efforts that support their mental health or growth.

“Our partners inspire us in more ways than just their work. So many of them bring their entire self to the work of helping people achieve their dreams of earning a college degree,” said Education Program Officer Ashley Johnson-Varner. “That includes their racial identity and personal journey, which is why we felt it so important to create an intentional space and dedicated opportunity for targeted equitable support for our BIPOC partners.”

“I’ve witnessed how leaders are deeply committed to delivering for their staff and the communities they serve during this pandemic. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, there’s a very real cost to the unimaginable level of work these leaders have sustained, and this manifests as exhaustion, burnout or near burnout, and mental health challenges,” said Aditi Goel, founder of P16 Partners, who conducted the original survey and serves as the program’s facilitator. “We believe that Thrive’s unrestricted awards and the programming for leaders’ wellbeing can play a critical role in helping ensure that leaders can continue to execute at high levels in a far more sustainable way.”

“Our hope is that funding the Thrive Leaders Network is evidence of Kresge’s commitment to celebrate and support nonprofit leaders of color who work tirelessly every day to help people achieve their full potential.  Our nation can’t achieve its higher education attainment goals without the contributions of these leaders and the organizations they run,” said Caroline Altman Smith, deputy director of the Education Program. “We are excited to launch this program and look forward to learning alongside these incredible individuals about how philanthropy can best support their leadership.”

Thrive Leaders Network Members 

We are delighted to welcome the following leaders to the Thrive Leaders Network: