By Brenda Asare, President & CEO
Black History Month is a time to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black Americans. It’s a time to acknowledge and disrupt bias while fostering a more equitable and inclusive society. It is also an opportunity for individuals and organizations to reflect on their role in supporting the Black community and to become more active allies. This includes engaging donors of color and making meaningful investments in Black-led organizations and initiatives.
Why does philanthropy matter during Black History Month?
Philanthropy plays a pivotal role in supporting the Black community and advancing racial justice. It provides resources to the nonprofit community to fuel initiatives that are working to address systemic barriers facing the Black community such as poverty, health care and education. Philanthropy also helps to amplify Black voices and perspectives and to build a broader appreciation of the Black experience.
1. Engage donors of color.
To effectively engage donors of color, nonprofits must first understand the unique experiences and perspectives of these donors. This includes understanding their motivations for giving, their philanthropic values and the challenges they face as donors.
A major step in building trust with Black donors is to create a welcoming and inclusive environment and cultivate a culture where donors feel valued, heard and respected. It also means being intentional and proactive with communication: reaching out to potential donors and providing opportunities for them to bond with your organization and other like-minded givers.
Another critical step is to provide numerous and meaningful avenues for donors to get involved and to make a difference. It’s important to engage these donors in meaningful dialogue and invite them to share feedback on the organization’s work. Engagement also means connecting donors directly to the organization: serving on committees and inviting them to observe team members in action.
Ultimately, meaningful and sustainable engagement of Black donors is built around trust. This trust is only achieved when an organization builds its cultural competency: showing up in places that matter, reading and listening to materials that provide insights into Black culture and activating relationships with high touch and consistent engagement. As highlighted in recent research conducted by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and The Mays Family Institute on Diverse Philanthropy, Blacks are not new to being generous and employ a broad range of funding vehicles to give back to their community as well as to others.
2. Invest in Black-led organizations and initiatives.
Another important aspect of philanthropy during Black History month is making meaningful investments in Black-led organizations. Research shows that Black-led organizations are 24% smaller in their revenue base compared to their white-led counterparts. Not to mention the same organizations have net-assets that are 74% smaller than those of their white-led counterparts. These organizations play a life-changing role in addressing issues facing the Black community and bring unique perspectives and solutions to the challenges that they face.
In their report on the Power of Black Social Innovation, Echoing Green highlights the possibilities of our collective future when we affirm and support the work of Black social innovators and leaders. This is especially true in the nonprofit world. When acting in allyship, consider prioritizing long-term funding and support to these Black-led organizations over reactionary giving.
Not sure where to begin? Here is a list of Black-led initiatives to consider investing in:
Black-led nonprofit organizations in Chicago
Association of Black Foundation Executives
Chicago African Americans in Philanthropy
Foundation for Black Philanthropy
3. Be an active ally.
Undergirding the intersection of Black History Month and Philanthropy is the role that non-Black people play in the continued oppression of Black communities both individually and systemically. One way this oppression can begin to dissolve is by defining and participating in active allyship.
Allyship is the intentional effort to work in solidarity and partnership with marginalized groups, challenging assumptions, attitudes and beliefs and bringing implicit bias to the forefront. Active allyship takes this to the next level. It acknowledges that we are each an enabler of inclusivity in every moment of our day. It recognizes that curiosity, self-education, and regular application are required to uphold our responsibilities to one another.
Alford Group offers an extensive DEI toolkit that provides techniques and resources for how to implement active allyship. Through all these methods and more, active allyship is a commitment to transforming the dominant narrative of whom we call a philanthropist and how we define philanthropy as a whole.
Learning is continuous.
Active allyship is a continuous process of learning and sharing that can be uncomfortable for some. However, for the world of philanthropy to truly overcome these biases, it is critical that we exercise these conversations and practices consistently, collectively, and expansively across identity groups.
Giving Back: The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited is one rich opportunity to learn more and support the reframing narratives around philanthropy. Since its beginning in 2015, the exhibition has captivated visitors across the country with its comprehensive, multimedia presentation of stories of centuries-old generosity among Americans of African descent. It currently runs from February through April 2023 at the Chicago Cultural Center. Visit their website for more information on panel discussions, and public forums accompanying the exhibition.
Below are additional resources to learn more about the history of Black philanthropy, and to plug into more dialogues about how to transform the narrative moving forward:
A Generosity of Spirit: The Legacy of Black Philanthropy
Everyday Donors of Color: Diverse Philanthropy During Times of Change
Madam C.J. Walker: 3 Myths About Black Philanthropy Debunked
Let’s keep our commitment to advancing equity and inclusivity beyond Black History Month. Our collective lives depend on it.