How The Skillman Foundation used capacity building to widen Detroit’s net of inclusion

By partnering with Catchafire, The Skillman Foundation has become a regional catalyst for Detroit. Through capacity building, we’re supporting BIPOC-led nonprofits and communities throughout Michigan.


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How The Skillman Foundation has used capacity building programs
The Skillman Foundation is a Detroit-based private independent foundation that invests in Detroit youth, with a focus on youth power and justice. The foundation has a tremendous impact in the Detroit community with over $22 million in grantmaking each year. But money alone isn’t enough – and in order to drive true liberation, The Skillman Foundation partnered with Catchafire to provide additional support for youth-serving organizations in Detroit that did not fall within the Foundation's traditional funding guidelines.
Our partnership began in 2020 when The Skillman Foundation was searching for a unique approach to supporting Detroit nonprofits and providing capacity building support. The Skillman Foundation embarked on a community-rooted strategic planning process to rethink its grantmaking, metrics, and partners, and turned to Catchafire to provide a list of over 200 youth-focused nonprofits in need of capacity building support.
Four years later, these nonprofits still benefit from access to Catchafire as a source of capacity support, and the Foundation has seen nearly double its ROI. Together, we've created over $1.4 million in value for Detroit nonprofits that provide wraparound services to youth in marginalized communities.
Terry Whitfield headshot
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Too often, organizations working closest to an issue receive the least support. In Detroit, that inequity gets compounded by race. Catchafire is linking Detroit’s Black leaders and leaders of color to pro-bono resources so they can strengthen their organizations without having to sacrifice service to the community.

Terry Whitfield
Program Officer, The Skillman Foundation

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Addressing racial equity in Detroit
With over 22,000 nonprofits of all sizes, Detroit is home to a dedicated nonprofit community. However, the lack of access to capital for nonprofit organizations led by People of Color and for minority-owned businesses has been a longstanding barrier. Nonprofits deserve access to capacity building support for their staff and leadership–with the right resources, they can focus solely on advancing their mission and serving their communities.

A recent survey has highlighted this inequity:

  • 66.5% of the city’s nonprofits have executive directors who are Black, Indigenous or are People of Color
  • Organizations with leaders of color have assets between $471 and $1.8 million
  • Most white-led organizations have assets between $63,228 and $3.6 million
The survey also found that organizations led by People of Color stay in business four years less than White-led organizations surveyed.
The survey aligns with many of our findings on Catchafire. In the United States, only 25% of all nonprofit Executive Directors are BIPOC. On Catchafire, sixty one percent of our nonprofit partners have BIPOC leadership, with 32% representing Black-led organizations. BIPOC leaders benefit the most from our capacity building support and resources–the average yearly value added to Black-led nonprofits is $14,000, $14,000 for nonprofits led by People of Color (not Black or Indigenous), and $26,000 for Indigenous leaders, compared to $8,000 in value for their White peers.
Many leaders of color create nonprofits as an instrument to serve and support their communities–with our resources, they receive capacity building support, peer-to-peer learning opportunities, one on one coaching, and access to a leadership group exclusively for BIPOC executive directors to network, learn, and create a safe space.
Through Catchafire, The Skillman Foundation not only gained capacity building support for its grantees, but they gained actionable insights on the unique needs of BIPOC-led and serving nonprofits. Our collaboration has amplified The Skillman Foundation's equity strategy, and the extension of our resources to non-grant partners has proven to be a game changer for nonprofits that the Foundation couldn't support otherwise.
Kids. Community. Hip hop.
Class Act Detroit is a youth-focused nonprofit that serves youth of all ages by creating community and nurturing leadership through arts education, including free youth programming based on the elements of hip hop.
In 2020, Rashard Dobbins, the CEO and Founder of Class Act Detroit, had to figure out how to continue to give students the support they needed when in-person curriculum wasn't an option. When Catchafire recommended them to The Skillman Foundation, they were immediately given access to our capacity building support, giving them the virtual volunteer support necessary to remain open and adapt their programs to online education – even allowing them to reach far more students than before.
Since receiving a sponsor membership from The Skillman Foundation, staffers at Class Act Detroit have worked with volunteers on 51 projects and have received over $200,000 in pro bono services.
Rashard Dobbins headshot
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If it hadn't been for Catchafire, we wouldn't exist. Catchafire has impacted our operational tasks and has allowed us to rally support to help push our mission. Since completing our projects, we are more organized and now run like a well-oiled machine.

Rashard Dobbins
CEO & Co-Founder, Class Act Detroit

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