August marks the beginning of Black Philanthropy Month, a collective effort founded in 2011 by Dr. Jackie Copeland who defines it as, “a global celebration and concerted campaign to elevate African descent giving and funding equity.” (https://www.blackphilanthropymonth.com/about)
With my work in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Access and Belonging with mostly white nonprofit boards, it has become painfully obvious that knowledge gaps between the races is a significant barrier for diversification of boards and inclusionary practices in board work.
As a Black consultant, I began to ponder whether nonprofit boards really understand the significance of these gaps and why celebrating Black Philanthropy Month is vital for nonprofit work. Unsurprisingly, most white professionals in the nonprofit sector, including board members, are not aware that this national celebration exists at all. My work with them has revealed that even after the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s and the Black Lives Matter movement today, the gulf that divides us continues to widen.
This reminds me of a quote from The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, by Heather McGee:
“I learned that although we knew about white people even if we didn’t live with them—they were co-workers, school administrators, and of course, every image onscreen—segregation meant that white people didn’t know much about us at all. For all the ways that segregation is aimed at limiting the choices of people of color, it’s white people who are ultimately isolated.”
Desegregation has not led white people to learn and understand Black people beyond what they see, hear, and read on tv, radio, magazines, and social media. In most instances, the narratives told through those mediums are not ours and they are not positive.
The Power of Black Philanthropy
There are so many biases and blind spots in the nonprofit mainstream about the power Black communities wield to make change through charitable participation and donations. The truth is the practice of giving in the Black community has been around for centuries. Many of the indigenous forms of giving from tribes on the African continent, such as “cooperatives, rotation and savings clubs, communal collective efforts, and burial societies were later brought to Southern plantations where Africans were enslaved after surviving the Middle Passage.” (Muhammad, Hawwa, Five Facts to Know About Black Philanthropy, 2021, https://www.tides.org/accelerating-social-change/philanthropy/five-facts-to-know-about-black-philanthropy/)
The survival of Black people, then and today, has depended on collective efforts of individuals, families, and communities to cover and support one another. It has meant and continues to mean that the act of loving our humankind has been our norm for hundreds of years.
“The term philanthropy does not fully embrace just how diverse the nature of giving is, in practice. At its core, the practice of philanthropy is rooted in an unspoken contract committed to the collective benefit of the community.” (Muhmmad, 2021) Black people embrace and understand this and have relied on our full spectrum of giving to survive and thrive for centuries. It is time to shift the narrative and see the Black community as individuals who are actively engaged in philanthropy by both supporting and creating solutions to uplift one another. We know the definition of philanthropy extends beyond financial giving.
What Boards Should Know about Black Philanthropy
There are other truths that boards should know as they consider diversifying their boards and cultivating relationships with potential Black board members and donors.
Much research has shown the absence of Black people on boards and in data is based on perceptions of our access, or lack of access to money and power. We are often seen as recipients of charity rather than donors who can pay board dues and support flourishing programs. A basic understanding about Black philanthropy and motivations for engaging and giving may just clue in Board members and other nonprofit leaders about how philanthropic the Black community really is.
Findings and Motivations for Black Donors
Black households donate a higher share of their wealth than white households. They give 25% more of their income annually than white households, and two-thirds of African American households donate to organizations and causes, totaling $11 billion each year. This is significant because 48% of Black households who give, report incomes below $50k per year.
Donors across all racial and ethnic groups help and give to those they know, but “Black Americans are more likely to help and give money to strangers in need. Seventy-six percent of Black donors said they give to strangers compared with just under 50 percent of donors over all.” (Diverse Donors Led the Shift to Social- and Racial-Justice Giving in 2020, New Report Says, Chronicle of Philanthropy, 2021, https://www.philanthropy.com/article/diverse-donors-led-the-shift-to-social-and-racial-justice-giving-in-2020-new-report-says)
Giving in the Black community comes in many different forms. Giving through the Black Church is synonymous with service and doing God’s work. Many, Black donors, 64% in fact, engage and give because of their faith.
More than 30% of Black donors give because of family tradition and to support their unique heritage and tradition.
Many Black donors have shared that they engage and give because of the trust relationship they have with the person asking.
One in five Black donors say they would support more organizations if asked more often.
Boards Can Change Beliefs and Behaviors by Knowing and Understanding Black Philanthropy
Board chairs and other leaders must recognize that they must change their beliefs about the behaviors of Black people and the contributions they make to the sector. Not only do we volunteer and attend events, but our collective giving to charitable causes is tremendous and respectable.
When building relationships with Black stakeholders, leverage faith and their beliefs about giving (pleasing to God and pouring back into His Kingdom) into conversations. Use discretion and tactful ways to acknowledge spiritual obligations as core values for them. Be mindful that this may not be true for every black board member/donor. Employ savvy cultivation methods to learn what is important to your donors regardless of color.
Understand that exclusionary practices that have led to white privilege and contributed to Black omission and rejection, has mandated a sense of responsibility to preserve and build our own communities. Remember this truth when sharing impact stories with potential board members and highlight how Black communities are better because of your mission.
It should not be surprising that most Black people do not trust White people. We are more likely to participate or give to a nonprofit if invited or referred by a trusting member in our immediate circle. Find Black champions to partner with as you begin to recruit new board members or invite new donors into your nonprofit’s story.
Do not allow your fear of Black people to be greater than asking for what you need. Nonprofit leaders who are courageous enough to ask Black professionals to serve on their boards or make financial donations will be successful and reap the rewards of diversity, lived experience, innovation, and creativity.
“When a nonprofit's board members look like the community they serve, the organization will be better able to access resources in the community through connections with potential donors and/or collaborative partners and policy makers.” (National Council of Nonprofits, https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/tools-resources/diversity-nonprofit-boards)
Black Philanthropy is Philanthropy!
Today, Giving Circles, (https://whatisagivingcircle.com/?gclid=CjwKCAjwlqOXBhBqEiwA-hhitMQwp9r-HeG_DBVnuZ-Ew6dXFvtq1AJAtSKKYWe-EqLGPxRJZMmWKxoCt4oQAvD_BwE) and Susus, (https://www.clevergirlfinance.com/blog/what-is-a-susu/) are informal methods Black people have utilized to give and save. Although there has been controversy around Susu’s, they have worked with a few groups because of inherent trust between the participants. Giving Circles have become vastly popular with women and people of color. This method of giving allows individuals to take full advantage of the power of the collective. As the old saying goes, “We can do more together, than alone.” Black donors are also helping to lead shifts toward other non-traditional forms of philanthropy, such as mutual aid, crowdfunding and other sources of grassroots giving. These have been transformational modes of giving during COVID and political, social, and economic unrest.
Boards can no longer ignore that Black volunteers/donors are changing the fabric of philanthropy in this country if they want their organizations to achieve their established missions. I am hopeful that boards will invest in Black philanthropic leadership, help to amplify our stories, and cultivate next gen board members. Black Philanthropy Month is the perfect time to uplift, thank, and recognize their Black board members for the gifts of their lived experiences, connections to community, and financial resources that allow many nonprofits to do amazing work.
Remember, Black Philanthropy Month is “a time set aside to celebrate and recognize the contributions of the Black philanthropic leadership that supports our communities, and applaud the impact and power of Black collective giving to transform lives and make a difference.”( Black Philanthropy Month: A Cause for Celebration, Curated Article, 2017) https://givingcompass.org/article/black-philanthropy-month-a-cause-for-celebration?gclid=CjwKCAjwlqOXBhBqEiwA-hhitMNd-re3rlcMuFLTW4VaPZ9PlIou7YvM-hMOqRxJxy_p4mKqNT7yjRoC1pEQAvD_BwE
Let the party begin!
For more information about Black Philanthropy Month, visit www.blackphilanthropymonth.com
Five Facts to Know About Black Philanthropy, Perspective by Hawwa Muhammad, 2021, https://www.tides.org/accelerating-social-change/philanthropy/five-facts-to-know-about-black-philanthropy
Diversity in Giving: Changing the Landscape of American Philanthropy, 2015
Study: Philanthropic Landscape Shifting as Everyday Donors of Color Increasingly Shape Giving, Lily School of Philanthropy, 2021
Diversity on Nonprofit Boards
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, by Heather McGee, 2021
Black Philanthropy Month: A Cause for Celebration, Giving Compass, 2017, https://givingcompass.org/article/black-philanthropy-month-a-cause-for-celebration?gclid=CjwKCAjwlqOXBhBqEiwA-hhitMNd-re3rlcMuFLTW4VaPZ9PlIou7YvM-hMOqRxJxy_p4mKqNT7yjRoC1pEQAvD_BwE