Most of us have heard about the generosity of celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Estevan, or Tyler Perry when it comes to philanthropy. However, how do non-profits take advantage of the untapped potential of other Americans of color who have the means and the willingness to contribute? There are about 1.3 million people of color with fortunes of at least $1 million in the U.S., but little is being done to engage them in philanthropy, according to a report compiled by a group calling itself the People of Color Donor Collaborative. According to the report’s co-authors, “High-net-worth individuals of color do give philanthropically, but they tend to be isolated from each other and absent from networks that connect wealthy white donors.” So, what can organizations do to tap into this potential?
One idea is Giving Circles (GC). GCs are starting to gain traction among a much more diverse group of donors and a recent initiative in Philadelphia was launched in order to take advantage of this trend. The African American Leadership Forum of Philadelphia conducted a study that showed that black-led nonprofits tend to be smaller, have less access to funding sources, and have fewer cash reserves than white-led nonprofits. Seeing an opportunity to correct this, the Philadelphia Black Giving Circle was created with the intention of supporting local African-American led charities through small grants. Their original goal was to raise $20,000 from 100 members but they quickly surpassed that and raised $30,000 from 50 members. “We understand that there are many smaller organizations doing great community-based work, but because they are smaller in size and oftentimes have less resources, they get overlooked,” said Dwayne Wharton, a PBGC committee member. “We really want to connect with and support these organizations.”
Taking a page from the playbook of certain progressive causes has been another tactic that is starting to be explored. Many people credit organizations and conferences like Tim Gill’s OutGiving for mobilizing support and funds to legalize gay marriage and fostering the LBGTQ philanthropic movement. As Ashindi Maxton of the People of Color Donor Collaborative states, “What actually won (the gay marriage initiative) was a disciplined, state-by-state strategy that was driven by gay donors, who wanted to put their money, their resources and their political capital into achieving something that no one thought was possible when they started. What would happen if you did the same with donors of color? Where could you fuel massive change?” The People of Color Donor Collaborative and others hope to find out with the ultimate goal of building a network for individuals of color and organizing them around racial, economic and social justice issues.
In summary, the face of philanthropy needs to change in order to better reflect our multicultural society. It is not just about engaging wealthy donors anymore. One of the founders of Black Philanthropy Month points out that it is about engaging the average person. When people are mobilized to work towards a common goal, the results can be amazing. A great example is the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Most of the funds came from individual gifts from black Americans with $4 million alone coming in gifts of less than $1,000. In conclusion, there isn’t a shortage of people that want to make a difference. They just need to be engaged collectively so their impact can be increased on the issues that matter the most.