Connecting with the Black Philanthropic Community

This post is by Akira Barclay, EPIP member and former EPIP-NYC steering committee member. It was first featured on the Giving in LA blog. African-American-FamilyAfrican-Americans have a rich history of philanthropy.  Giving 8.6% of their discretionary income to charity, Blacks give more than any other racial group in the United States. Still, tapping into the generosity of this group remains a mystery for many including community foundations looking for ways to connect with new donors in an effort to combat their waning relevance in the marketplace. It is no secret that myriad benefits can be realized by those who succeed in making a meaningful connection to Black philanthropic community. But how? First, consider the following:

  • Your relationships with professional advisors may not be sufficient to connect with African-American donors:

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Many community foundations rely on their relationships with advisors to refer individuals and families who are interested in philanthropy.  But are you sure African Americans with wealth are working with the same advisors? Also, misperceptions about community foundations may exist among some professionals. Advisors who do not understand that a community foundation is a neutral giving vehicle and not an end in itself may fail to make the referral out of fear that they are promoting a specific nonprofit or cause. Whether it is misperception on the part of the advisor or some other issue creating a disconnect, it makes sense to complement your relationships with professional advisors with other modes of outreach in order to successfully connect with African-American donors.

  • Your image (or lack of) in the Black community may need repairing:

Community foundations are not generally well known and often misunderstood. If mention of your institution elicits a blank stare this is an indicator that more visibility is needed. African-Americans who are largely unaware of a community foundation’s grantmaking in their communities, the impact of those grants or the people who make the grant decisions will not see the community foundation as a trusted partner in their personal giving.  Additionally, foundation philanthropy for some in the African American community has become confused with fundraising and events.  Specific education may be needed about the community foundation model and services being designed to support donors with effective grantmaking, versus operating programs, planning events or fundraising.

  • How can you be more inclusive?

Studies show that African-Americans who give to community foundations tend to have had the benefit of an existing relationship with community foundation staff or Board leadership prior to opening their funds.  In some instances, African-American donors have even served as Trustees or committee members of the community foundations that host their fund.  This meaningful engagement affords them familiarity with the institution beyond what the average community member has and is an important element in developing trust. Here are three ways you can begin to building bridges to the Black philanthropic community:

  1. Expand your definition of wealth – While media reports of recent megagifts to a handful of community funds dominate the headlines, ultra high net worth individuals are not the only population worth pursuing.  Welcome simple and significant wealth by reaching out to middle class donors of color.  Establishing meaningful relationships in the early wealth-building stages, particularly with entrepreneurs creates history. That history breeds trust and makes you a more likely recipient of future largesse.
  2. Consider collaborating with a Black giving circle – Giving circles are organized and self-governed groups of community philanthropists who are well-known in Black communities all over the country because of their responsiveness, influence and impact on pressing issues. Giving circles like members of The Community Investment Network  engage African-Americans from various sectors.  A strategic collaboration can help raise the profile of your foundation in the Black community and aid in your ongoing relationship building.
  3. Be patient – Cultivating relationships with African-American donors requires strong and sustained institutional commitment. Particularly if your institution is overcoming a previous lack of commitment to actively pursue African-American donors the connection will not happen overnight.  But those willing to make a long-term sincere effort will realize a healthy African-American donor base, the results of a history of relationships, trust and experience as an honest partner.

Akira Barclay (www.akirajbarclay.com) is New York Contributor to Blackgivesback.com (www.blackgivesback.com).