Anne Price, president of the racial-justice group Insight Center for Community and Economic Development, left her job last week. Although Price has boosted fundraising and just won a prestigious honor, she says the board repeatedly refused to raise her salary, has governed the group poorly, and has underpaid her and treated her badly because she is a woman and because she is Black. So she resigned.
Price is the first Black woman to lead the group, which works to lift up people of color through research, advocacy, and efforts to shift national discussions about racial economic disparities, yet she is its lowest paid leader in recent history.
In her six years at the organization, Price increased its funding and profile, nearly doubling its revenue from 2017 to 2021. This year Price says the group received a multimillion-dollar grant from Pivotal Ventures, founded by Melinda French Gates. A day before Price left, she was named a Highland Leader, one of 15 Black women leaders from across the country chosen for the honor and the $100,000 prize. She is often quoted in news articles and has written opinion articles for mainstream and nonprofit-focused publications.
“I’m the first woman [leader], and I’ve done a much better job than my previous predecessor,” she says. Yet the board ignored her requests for a raise for years. It’s hypocritical for this to happen at a group that focuses on the economic well-being of people of color, she says.
Her experience is just one example of the challenges that leaders of color often face, especially when it comes to their relationships with the boards of the nonprofits they lead, something Price wanted to call attention to by sharing her story.
When Price started, she was paid about 60 percent of what her predecessor, a Latino man, earned during most of his tenure. In six years, the board gave her just one raise that still left her earning 75 percent as much as her predecessor, according to the organization’s informational tax returns.
The Insight Center’s staff credits Price with turning the organization around and making it more relevant. The day before Price left, the entire program staff announced their plans to resign on December 31 in solidarity with Price, but offered to stay on through the beginning of March as contractors to fulfill work required by grants the group received.
In the staff’s letter announcing their resignations, they praised Price’s leadership and called out the board as a key factor for why they were all leaving. “We feel that the Board is not supportive of the vision and work we came to Insight to do. This is not only disappointing and concerning to us as individuals but is inhibiting our ability to grow and expand our work. We feel our only option is to step away from the organization.”
Tensions between the board and the staff, including Price, have been rising over the past year. Price says the board chair, Beatriz Stotzer, has displayed anti-Black bias when it comes to Price and the group’s work. Price wrote in a letter to the board in August, which she shared with the Chronicle, that the board painted her “as an angry, unprofessional Black woman.”
She says Stotzer, who is a Latina, asked her to “take that Black stuff off the website.” Jhumpa Bhattacharya, the group’s executive vice president, says Stotzer was concerned that the group looked like it was only focusing on Black issues. “She made comments that our website looks too Black, that we might get confused with the Urban League,” she says. “Just ridiculous, silly comments. It just makes no sense.”
Price says that the relationship between her and the board chair became so toxic that she asked for a mediator and refused to speak with her unless another board member and a staff member were present. Yet she says Stotzer called and texted her at all hours when Price was caring for her sick mother, even after she asked Stotzer to stop.
In a statement emailed to the Chronicle, Stotzer did not answer questions posed to her about charges from Price and the staff. She wrote that she was unable to comment on any pending personnel matters and the board remained committed to supporting the Insight Center’s urgent and important work. “We wish Anne Price the best in her future endeavors.”
Thinking over her accomplishments, the differences in the way she and her predecessor were treated, and the gulf in their compensation, Price can only come to one conclusion: “I really feel that what I see is a great deal of racism and sexism.”
When Price took over the organization, it was in crisis. Contributions fluctuated from year to year. In 2014, the year after her predecessor took over, they hit $1.9 million. In 2017, the year after Price started, they fell to $649,000. The nonprofit faced the prospect of merging or closing. Its unrestricted reserves had fallen to just $69,000 at the end of 2015.
Henry Ramos, her predecessor, had also inherited fiscal challenges. Ramos says he cut costs because of the organization’s financial problems, including reducing the staff size and, late in his tenure, cutting his own salary from $200,000 to $175,000. He brought in new funding from several major grant makers and added board members with strong reputations. But, he says, by the third year of his tenure, the organization was still not stabilizing.
Part of the problem, Ramos says, was most board members’ lack of preparedness to help raise more money, which he says is one of the reasons he left. “The board leadership, though well-intended, was sadly ineffective and ill-prepared in relation to taking initiative to generate needed resources for us at a time when we badly needed that,” he says.
When Price took the helm, she was offered just $125,000 — $50,000 less than Ramos’s reduced salary. Price says she saw a path to solvency for the group and assumed that as the group’s fortunes rose, her salary would as well.
“It was very, very rough,” she says. “When you have no runway, you don’t have the right staff composition and all the pieces in place.”
Price turned the group around. In her six years as leader, she brought in many new donors, getting grants from 25 sources, many of them new. Contributions rose from $649,000 in 2017 to more than $1.1 million in 2021. At the end of 2021, the center had over $600,000 in unrestricted reserves.
The Insight Center’s grant from Pivotal was the largest in Insight’s history, Price says. Pivotal does not disclose the size of its grants and would not comment on the amount of this grant.
In a written statement, Ada Williams Prince, director of program strategy and investment at Pivotal Ventures, said the grant maker invests in leaders and organizations that help to make women and girls of color visible. “The Insight Center’s focus on addressing the root causes of economic exclusion and Anne’s proven leadership in advancing economic mobility for women of color were essential in our decision to support their work.”
The Highland Project recently recognized Price’s work to help build multigenerational wealth by naming her a Highland Leader. Gabrielle Wyatt, founder of the Highland Project, was generous with her praise.
“[Price] is more than any seat professionally that she has held. She’s creative, she’s loving, she’s joyful, she’s hilarious,” Wyatt says. “We’re so thrilled to have her in the Highland family.”
‘It Always Feels Like a Fight’
Despite the award and accolades, the Insight Center’s board members didn’t seem to appreciate Price’s work and fundraising accomplishments, according to Price and Bhattacharya.
“Every board meeting I’ve been to, it always feels like a fight. We have to prove ourselves,” Bhattacharya says. “I’ve never, as a staff person, felt supported about my work.”
A core group of trustees has been on the Insight Center board for a long time. The board chair has been in that position for a decade. Four of the six board members listed in the group’s 2021 informational tax return had been on the board since at least 2013, and one of them since 2009. Price says that when she started, she wanted to nominate candidates for the board to consider appointing. Her predecessor had done just that — the board had as many as 13 members under Ramos. Most of the board members he nominated left not long after he did, leaving mostly board members who had been there before he took over.
Price, however, says the board never allowed her to nominate members.
Bhattacharya was in a meeting with Price, Stotzer, and another board member, Monica Gonzales, in April to discuss adding more trustees. At that point, the board was down to four members, fewer than the bylaws allow. Price asked again to nominate people for the board to consider. Bhattacharya says Gonzales, who is Latina, told her that it would be a conflict of interest for her to nominate board members.
“This feels very strange,” Bhattacharya says. “Every president that I know was able to nominate people to be on the board.”
Gonzales did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The Chronicle also reached out to all the other current board members of the Insight Center with detailed questions. None responded.
The board met only five times from January 2019 through the end of 2021, in violation of its own bylaws. Price says she tried many times to get the board to meet. When she tried to plan meetings, board members ignored her emails. She tried to institute a practice of setting up a board-meeting schedule at the beginning of each year, but the board chair refused to do that.
She says that budgets weren’t approved until late in the year.
“There wasn’t any kind of standard practice around governance,” Price says. “You’re talking about a gross abuse of power.”
Many of the board practices described by Price and Bhattacharya are outside the norms of nonprofit board operations, says Monika Kalra Varma, CEO of BoardSource, an organization that helps nonprofits improve their governance. She says boards typically meet four times a year, and many meet more often to ensure they are carrying out their fiduciary duties. In the group’s latest “Leading With Intent” survey of boards and nonprofit CEOs, the average number of meetings boards had in 12 months was 7.5.
It’s also unusual to have board members with such long tenures. In BoardSource’s survey, only 5 percent reported having no board terms, and three quarters reported having a term of three years. About three quarters had a limit on the number of terms board members could serve.
Rotating executive positions and bringing members on and off the board regularly are important, Varma says.
“We are all human. We all get a little complacent over time,” she says. As the world changes and organizations evolve, it’s important to recruit board members with new skills and perspectives. “Part of what you get from making sure that there aren’t board members that are serving in perpetuity is making sure that that you’re getting some of that good thinking, but also good governance.”
She says board chairs most commonly serve two consecutive one-year terms. She also says that directors can and often do bring names of potential board members to the board’s nominating committee. It is hardly unusual. However, it is the board’s job to vet those individuals.
The racial makeup of the Insight Center board had been shifting as well. In 2018, it was roughly half Latino and half Black. Bhattacharya says that the board’s support of Price split along racial lines. But support for Price collapsed this year when two Black board members left the group. In March, Connie Evans, one of those Black board members, planned to suggest to the board that she cycle off of it and that other board members do the same, and that a whole new board should be brought on, Price says.
But the board was not receptive. Evans wrote in the email, which Price provided to the Chronicle: “The board had something else in mind, which I saw as continued dysfunction and a path I could not support.”
Through a publicist, Evans declined to speak with the Chronicle for this article.
Evans also wrote that she told Stotzer that the board’s actions could “jeopardize the momentum you have with the recent funding, that we should be building on rather than destroying.”
Bhattacharya was at the board meeting in 2018 when Price got her only raise. After Price presented to the board about her fundraising and accomplishments, Bhattacharya says board member Evans said that Price was underpaid. Bhattacharya says Stotzer, in particular, “bristled” at the comment. When the group went into an executive session to discuss the matter, Price sat outside and told Bhattacharya that she doubted she would get the raise.
She was wrong. The board did increase her salary, from $125,000 to $150,000. That was still $50,000 less than her predecessor initially made and less than his predecessor earned in 2007.
“It’s like they had this story about who Anne is and they couldn’t get past her skin color and whatever image they had of her to ever fully recognize her leadership, her power, her brilliance,” Bhattacharya says. “She just was never seen.”
Racially biased behavior between Latinos and Black people is not an aberration, even at social-justice organizations, says Tanya Hernandez, a law professor at Fordham University School of Law and author of Racial Innocence: Unmasking Latino Anti-Black Bias. She says that Afro-Latinos have been marginalized in Latino communities because of attitudes that have been imported from Central America. Culturally, she says, Americans think of racism as something English-speaking white people do to English-speaking Black people, and as a result, other kinds of biases are rarely examined. “You can’t address something if it is hidden away, if it is viewed as a nonexistent issue.”
In some ways, philanthropic and social-justice groups may have a harder time addressing these issues because they feel like they are solving those problems through their missions, she says. “There is a self-image that we are already evolved. We are already doing good work. And so we’re the good guy,” she says. “Sometimes social-justice organizations within their own home turf can be re-enacting some of the very dynamics that they are trying to ameliorate.”
Conflict Comes to a Head
Price says she often asked for a raise and included salaries of CEOs at comparable organizations, all of whom made more than she did, as well as details about her achievements. She was denied raises she sought in April, July, and November of 2021. She was concerned that she would soon have to raise some staff salaries above her own.
When the August 2022 meeting came around, Price assumed that the board had been considering her request for a salary increase. Bhattacharya says she and Price had been trying to add a discussion of her salary to the agenda for the meeting, but the board kept taking it off. In the end, it became the last item.
Price says the executive committee of the board met and appointed new board members without notifying Price at the time. She says she only found out when she received materials for the board meeting three days before the meeting, which had originally been scheduled for July and ultimately happened August 8.
At the meeting, Price was confronted with three new board members she had never seen before. When the board told her that they wanted to start by evaluating her leadership before considering a raise, Price logged out of the virtual meeting. She had asked for a raise over and over. The board had only evaluated her performance once in the six years she had been with the organization.
CEO performance and pay need to be regularly and consistently evaluated by the board, says BoardSource’s Varma. “The chief executive reports to the board. There should be some oversight, there should be feedback, there should be a partnership in figuring out where the organization is going,” she says. “You need the board to do its job, and you need the CEO to do their job.”
Price felt that the review was merely a way for the board to continue putting off addressing her request for a raise.
After the meeting, board member Gonzales sent an email to Price, which Price shared with the Chronicle. She wrote to Price that the board “did not understand why your reaction was so hostile. The behavior not only stunned the board, it also raised concerns about your willingness and capacity to work in partnership on the very important projects that you described in the board meeting.”
Gonzales wrote that a warning regarding professionalism and common courtesy was warranted.
A few days later, Price responded to the board in an email that she provided to the Chronicle.
She wrote: “I also find it deeply problematic and extremely alarming that from this week’s meeting I have been painted as an angry, unprofessional Black woman. As I’m sure you’re aware, this is a trope that is often used to degrade and discredit Black women who speak up when they are mistreated. Out of common courtesy and a respect for living the values of our organization, I ask that you discontinue such a caricature.”
It didn’t take Price long to understand that she couldn’t stay at the organization. Just three months later, she told the board she planned to resign.
Invisible or Too Visible
The treatment that Price describes is not unusual for CEOs of color, although it happens most often when they follow a white leader at an organization, says Sean Thomas-Breitfeld, co-director of Building Movement Project, an organization that works to improve social-change leadership. Like Price, they are often brought into a challenging situation and expected to clean it up, a phenomenon that Building Movement found in its 2022 “Trading Glass Ceilings for Glass Cliffs” report on the obstacles nonprofit leaders of color face.
He says that Price’s low salary is problematic. By paying her so much less than her predecessor, the board was “asserting that the labor of a Black woman is worth less than the labor of a Latino man,” he says.
Price was both invisible to the board — her accomplishments were largely unacknowledged —and she was held to an unattainable standard, Thomas-Breitfeld says. “That’s a common frustration and complaint of people of color at all levels,” he says. “Either invisibility or hyper visibility.”
There are things new leaders of color can do to try to head off conflict with the board, Thomas-Breitfeld says. One thing, he says, is to talk openly about expectations and challenges with the board. They can also try to expand the board and set terms limits for board members so the board can change and shift as the organization does under new leadership. When there is a racial mismatch between the leader and the board, prospective leaders should really consider whether they want the job, Thomas-Breitfeld says. He urges them to push the board for details on how it will work to make the transition and the job as smooth as possible. He also says new leaders should ask for commitments for board terms if the board doesn’t have them and perhaps expanding the board to increase its diversity.
CEOs of color are often stuck between boards that are set in their ways and staff who are finding new, creative, and more equitable ways to operate, Varma, of BoardSource, says. Organizations are making decisions differently and sharing power in new ways, but boards are not going through those same changes. “There’s a real tension there,” she says.
Disagreements between CEOs and boards are to be expected, Varma says. When a new CEO starts, it’s a good time to discuss how the board and CEO will handle disagreements. Who can the CEO go to if he or she disagrees with the board chair? Both sides should be looking for constructive ways to address problems. “You’re not always going to agree — that’s actually very healthy for the organization,” she says. “But having some parameters around how those difficult conversations are going to go is really important.”
For Price, this whole situation has been difficult. She struggled with whether she should come forward and talk about the group’s problems publicly. But she wants to air these problems for the sake of other nonprofit leaders.
“You can have organizations that are working on racial equity and still have to deal with anti-Black racism,” she says. “It is something that we keep hidden and we don’t want to address. And I think we need to put that on the table.”