At conferences and in the media, it has been common to refer to African Americans as a new and emerging demographic in charitable giving. However, they have participated in the practice in the United States for hundreds of years, and over the past decade, African American families have—more than any other racial group—contributed the largest portion of their wealth to charity.
If nonprofits and financial advisors are serious about working with African American communities, they must commit to diversity and inclusion across their organizations, and dedicate the time, resources, and attention to identify, solicit, and steward Black donors on their own terms. SSIR publisher Michael Voss discusses these topics and others with Tyrone Freeman, assistant professor of philanthropic studies and director of undergraduate programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, and Stasia Washington, managing director at First Foundation Advisors. The full transcript of the episode can be read below.
MICHAEL GORDON VOSS: Welcome to Season 2 of Giving With Impact, an original podcast series from Stanford Social Innovation Review, developed with the support of Schwab Charitable. I’m your host, Michael Gordon Voss, publisher of SSIR. In this series, we hope to create a collaborative space for leading voices from across the philanthropic ecosystem to engage in both aspirational and practical conversations around relevant topics at the heart of achieving more effective philanthropy.
As one of our guests today has written in SSIR, it’s become customary to refer to African Americans as a new and emerging demographic in charitable giving. The phrase appears regularly at conferences and in media coverage about philanthropy. It intimates, however, that a large segment of the American population has suddenly started to give, as if they’ve never given before. The truth is that African Americans have participated in charitable giving in this country for hundreds of years, and that over the past decade, African American families have, perhaps more so than any other racial group, contributed the largest portion of their wealth to charity. The only new and emerging phenomenon is the recent interest of mainstream nonprofit organization in donors of color.
But if nonprofits are serious about cultivating diverse communities, they must commit across their organizations to diversity and inclusion, as well as dedicate time, resources, and attention to identify, solicit, and steward Black donors on their own terms. It’s essential to relate to these donors as individuals within the broader historical and cultural context that have and continue to shape their giving.
To begin to explore both the rich history and current landscape of African American philanthropy, we’re joined today by two individuals whose work and lived experience reflects upon and is reflected in these themes.
Tyrone McKinley Freeman is an award-winning scholar and teacher, who serves as assistant professor of philanthropic studies and director of undergraduate programs at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, from which he received both his MS and PhD. His research focuses on philanthropy in communities of color in historical and contemporary contexts, the history of philanthropy, and philanthropy and fundraising in higher education.
Previously, Professor Freeman was a professional fundraiser for social services, community development, and higher education organizations, and the Associate Director of The Fund Raising School, where he trains nonprofit leaders in the United States, Africa, Asia, and Europe. His writings have appeared in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the International Journal of Educational Advancement, Black Perspectives, and, of course, SSIR. He is coauthor of Race, Gender, and Leadership in Nonprofit Organizations, and the author of the soon-to-be released, Madam CJ Walker’s Gospel of Giving, Black Women’s Philanthropy during Jim Crow.
Stasia Washington is managing director at First Foundation Advisors, where she works directly with high-net-worth individuals and families to create customized plans to protect and grow wealth, often across multiple generations, and helps nonprofit foundations, exempt organizations, and endowments to realize their short- and long-term financial objectives through strategy and asset management. Recognized throughout her career. Stasia’s honors include the National STEM Top Woman of Color in Finance Award, the American Cancer Society Award of Merit, and the Los Angeles NAACP Outstanding Leader of the Year Award. Stasia currently serves her community as a member of the Corporate Advisory Council for the Girl Scouts of greater Los Angeles, and as Treasurer for Women in Films Board of Directors. Previously, Stasia served on the board of directors of KCET Public Broadcasting Television, MusiCares Foundation for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and the Greater Los Angeles YWCA, just to name a few. Stasia is a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles, Anderson Business Schools Leadership Institute, and received her MBA from the George Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University.
Stasia, Tyrone, thank you, both, for joining me today to discuss the historical and cultural context of African American philanthropy. Let’s get started.
Tyrone, as always, it’s a pleasure to see you again. You were a speaker at SSIR’s 2019 Nonprofit Management Institute, as well as coauthor of the cover story on “Eight Myths in Philanthropy” from our Fall 2019 issue. In both, you shared some historical perspective and insights on charitable giving by Black Americans, and the strong tradition of formal and informal philanthropy among African Americans going back centuries in this country. Would you mind sharing a little bit of that history right now with our listeners?
TYRONE MCKINLEY FREEMAN: Yes. It’s great to be with you and thanks for having me. When you think about African American philanthropy, it goes back to traditions of giving, caring, and sharing that actually were a part of West African cultures before colonialism, but they traveled across the Atlantic as a part of the slave trade and were transplanted into Southern plantations after having survived that Middle Passage and became a part of the family and communal structures within those plantations. And so the ways in which enslaved people looked after each other as their families were dispersed to many different plantations and they sometimes never saw them again, those around them became family. And so they would frequently look after each other and extend these same types of generosities to help each other survive and deal with the horrors of their enslavement.
And that gradually develops, and the founding of the Black church comes into play, other voluntary organizations, fraternal orders, free African societies and schools are created in the community, that are part of the ongoing process of trying to survive and deal with the ongoing struggle coming out of enslavement. The abolitionist movement involved a lot of generosity and people looking after each other and helping each other secure their freedoms. And then throughout the history after Civil War and after emancipation, there’s literally an explosion of voluntary organizations, orphanages, old folks homes, schools, mutual aid groups, where people are pooling resources and working together on issues of survival in the face of Jim Crow.
And that then continues into the 20th century, and we’re familiar with the civil rights movement. Well, that’s a philanthropic movement. It was not only steeped in the church and in fraternal organizations, and people volunteering to drive each other and because of boycotts, and looking after marchers, and letting them stay in their homes, right on up to today, where, again, informal family ways of giving and communal ways of sharing are part of daily life, all the way up to the movements that have captured headlines, the movements for Black lives social change. All of these are part of the extension of this great history of engagement that, again, goes back before the founding of the country, but it’s still very much alive and well today.
MICHAEL: And to take that a little bit further, you talked a little bit about that history of engagement and how it relates to what’s going on today. Talk to us a little bit more about the current landscape of African American philanthropy.
TYRONE: So the African American church is still a bedrock institution in the philanthropic landscape. It is a place where, again, philanthropic values are taught and practiced on a regular basis. And it also is an institution that strives to respond to needs in the community. So people will pay their tithes and their offerings and be a part of the programming there. But that money energy and talent is frequently redistributed into the community, to support education, to support rent, to support programming for youth, or soup kitchens, or other types of initiatives.
You still have the ways of giving between people within families and within neighborhoods. There’s the idea of the fictive kin, where you have your nuclear family, but you also have an extended family that is part of your network. And just as if they were blood related, you love and care for them, you share in your resources which factors into your levels of engagement with formal nonprofit organizations.
There are giving circles that are a modern day version of some of the fraternal organizations and mutual aid groups that existed, you know, 100 years ago and 200 years ago, where you pool your resources together and direct them towards a particular issue in the community, like education.
There are also some high net worth individuals who are increasingly turning to institutionalized forms of philanthropy in terms of setting up family foundations, or using donor-advised funds, or engaging advisors to help them develop their strategies and distribute.
And there’s an ongoing tradition and practice of volunteering or service that, again, may funnel through the church or through community organizations, but may not also fall under the label of philanthropy. There’s an active, vibrant landscape of giving going on in the community that includes money, but it also includes time and raising your voice, to participating in movements.
And on the professional side, we have also seen over the past 50 years the development of Blacks in Philanthropy groups and other types of affinity networks. Now there are Black women organizing in fundraising that are all about creating space for diverse leaders to engage philanthropy and help promote equity in giving and equal opportunity for engagement.
MICHAEL: Stasia, let me… first of all, let me welcome you. It’s a pleasure having you on the program for the first time.
STASIA WASHINGTON: Thank you.
MICHAEL: Tyrone spoke about the landscape of giving among the African American community today. Like so much else, how is the current COVID19 health pandemic influencing the issues and efforts of philanthropy and Black communities?
STASIA: Well, thank you for the kind introduction. And I also want to thank Schwab Charitable for inviting me to participate in this important conversation. Especially, today, it’s even more important to focus on philanthropy. I mean, COVID-19 has exacerbated poverty, and the Black community has been especially hard hit, with unemployment rates exceeding 20%. And unfortunately, 40% of Black businesses have shut their doors in the past four months. Economic disparities are causing poverty, anger, depression, and frustration, and now, more than ever, the better angels amongst us need to stand up and stand in the gap, stepping up their philanthropic gifts.
MICHAEL: And, Stasia, as someone who has worked so successfully with high net worth individuals and families, what advice can you give to other philanthropic advisors?
STASIA: It’s important for financial advisors to understand the cultural norms in charitable giving in the Black community. This greater understanding enables financial advisors to better assist their clients to navigate the pressures of family-based giving, as well as their commitment to tithing. For example, financial advisors can help clients understand the efficiency of tithing income monthly to a donor-advised fund, such as the funds offered by Schwab Charitable. This helps introduce clients to philanthropic tools to better organize donations and to maximize tax-related benefits. But this goes far beyond advising clients to take advantage of tax-related benefits. It’s really about helping clients realize their heart for giving.
MICHAEL: Tyrone, I hope that most people listening to this series are already somewhat familiar with the woman at the center of your forthcoming book, Madam CJ Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy during Jim Crow. Yet they’re probably more familiar with Madam Walker’s remarkable success in business and less so with her extraordinary work as a philanthropist, or the fact that she was not only not alone in her philanthropy, but that her philanthropy predated her wealth. Without giving away all the insights from your book, could you share some of the other key takeaways?
TYRONE: Madam Walker, as you say, was known as America’s first self-made female millionaire, but she wasn’t just an entrepreneur who happened to be charitable. At her heart, she was a very generous person, and she was involved with many different networks and was very giving of herself, not only financially, but of her time, her voice, her networks, her resources, more broadly understood because the devastation brought about by Jim Crow’s racism and sexism required kind of an all-hands on deck approach.
And so the book gave me a chance to articulate her philosophy of giving, because you think about a hundred years ago, you’re more likely to think of an Andrew Carnegie or a John D. Rockefeller than you are to think of an African American. And yet she’s a peer of theirs, she’s a contemporary, and she’s just as active in doing her own philanthropy there. And she gives us a different model. She did not spend her life accumulating wealth, and then later turn to philanthropy. She was what I call giving along the way with what she had. And so that’s really what her gospel of giving is, this idea that you take what you have at any given time and give of it to be of assistance and to help others or to bring about social change.
And that has big implications because we tend to think about the wealthy, who turn to philanthropy later in life. But, again, when we think about ways to engage on important issues, most of us aren’t in a position to wait. And most of us can see needs around us.
So Walker gives us insight into this incredible tradition that was reflective of what many Black women of her era were doing. And so that’s why it’s a pleasure to bring forward her approach to philanthropy, as a way of raising up this important and longstanding historical tradition of giving amongst the community, because she’s an important progenitor of what we’re doing today.
MICHAEL: You know, you mentioned it existed before her. It certainly continues today. And, Stasia, let me turn back to you for a moment, because in addition to your work with clients, you’re quite a formidable philanthropist in your own right. So among the philanthropic organizations in which you’re involved, I believe you’re the board chair of Driving Force Group. Would you tell us a bit about the work DFG is doing through its philanthropy, in particular around issues of racial justice and equity, the conversation around which is finally starting to get the broader attention it deserves?
STASIA: Yes. Since 2006, Driving Force Group has led individuals, foundations, corporations in race equity and social impact solutions. We’re driven as a board and as an organization by three simple truths. Number one, all people deserve equity. Number two, equity does not exist. And, number three, we must do our part to leave the world more equitable than when we found it. And we provide race equity consulting, philanthropic advisory services, fiscal sponsorship, and fund development services.
Serving on boards of nonprofits for me, and working on the front lines, addressing economic injustices has afforded me the opportunity to better understand the root problems around systematic racism that exacerbates poverty.
In my practice, I’ve been intentional about providing comprehensive advisory services to nonprofits, family foundations, individuals and families that have a heart for making a difference in the lives of others. As a board member for Driving Force Group, Cast LA, and Women in Film, I feel I am making a difference in the community.
MICHAEL: And, Stasia, as someone familiar in figuring out their philanthropic approach, what advice can you give to other advisors out there who want to become involved in philanthropy to better relate to their clients?
STASIA: I think it’s important to understand that service is the rent we pay for being here as that service is manifested through the work we do as board members, as a community. Those of us that may not have a lot to give initially, but they’re on their path to wealth accumulation, and, ultimately, wealth maintenance may give their time, and ultimately, their treasure through their philanthropic services. I suggest financial advisors consider serving on a nonprofit board based on what you’re passionate about, and from that interface, you will encounter people who ultimately could become clients. This approach helped me throughout my career in being able to provide investment advisory services for nonprofits, but, again, from a place where your heart and the work connects to make a difference.
MICHAEL: So, Tyrone, let me move back to you for a second. There’s certainly available research that demonstrates that African American philanthropy accounts for an increasing amount of the charitable giving in America each year and African American families give a greater percentage of their wealth than any other racial group in this country. As nonprofits look to expand their circle of donors with whom they work, what do they need to do to more deeply engage with these philanthropists?
TYRONE: One of the first things they need to do is they need to approach donors from their own lens and their own perspective and on their own terms. That’s been the big reason for the invisibility. They’re not new and emerging, they’ve been here all along. Your organization may not have been seeing them, because, again, you’re not aware of these traditions, you don’t know, and also there are structural problems in the field that prevent people from being seen and being engaged.
And so it’s important to recognize that these traditions go way back as part of the lifeblood of the community today. And even if you may not see it, because you’re not familiar with it, it has been there.
And so you’ve got to take an internal look at what some of your own challenges have been in reaching out to that community. And speaking to them in terms that make sense. It’s common for organizations to take an instance, where they started a new initiative to, let’s say, engage women, but what often happens is their white women constituents will show up, but maybe their women of color don’t. But no one follows up to say, ‘Why, what is that about?’ If you go out and pick up the phone and connect and say, ‘what’s been your experience with our organization? How can we build relationships with you? How can we reflect back to you the nature of the relationship you’d like to have with us? And what are those issues and topics that would draw you in and that you’re interested in collaborating to solve?’
MICHAEL: I think there’s a lot in what you just said. One thing that immediately jumped out at me is when you were talking about when an organization tries an outreach and they don’t see the response that they’re expecting, the importance of leaning into that and trying to understand better why that is. And what the reality is, as opposed to just making their own assumptions about it.
This is something that three of us were talking about the other day, that there are these false narratives that grew out of the Jim Crow laws and the history of oppression in the United States. And how do we combat these false narratives, you know, these ideas that like African Americans don’t give or things like that, which we know are not true when you look at the data.
TYRONE: It’s important to broaden your understanding of what philanthropy is and to be more aware. You know, the media will tend to draw our attention to the wealthiest gifts that are being made with the most zeros, and they tend to be made by white individuals, but we’ve got to realize that this is happening by people of color, as well, too.
And expanding the stories, highlighting more donors of color and the different types of gifts that they make is important.
And right now, African American women and other women of color are asserting themselves in the fundraising space. There already have been Blacks in philanthropy groups, and there’s Native Americans in philanthropy, and Hispanics in philanthropy. It’s important to move beyond the limited definition of philanthropy that tax policy and our government has given us.
MICHAEL: Stasia, as we talk about broadening understanding of philanthropy, I can’t help but think about emerging or next generation philanthropists. What are you seeing among next gen donors in your work?
STASIA: We’re finding, that the younger generation is passionate about a broader array of philanthropic causes. Most people are familiar with ESG. We are being asked by younger donors to add an R for race which now becomes SERG, social, environmental, racial, and governance issues in philanthropic investing. With this change, especially in the Black community, advisors will find the next generation more interested in extending mom and dad’s legacy through targeted giving.
MICHAEL: Well, I think that… that whole topic of engaging with people and especially building relationship with next generation donors could be a whole other episode. But, unfortunately, we’ve run out of time for this one. So, first off, Stasia, Tyrone, thank you, both, for your time today. I just want to say at a time when so many organizations in the philanthropic ecosystem are working to spotlight or address issues around race and equity, I think it’s important that we remind every one of the role that Black philanthropists have always played in helping to shape a better and more equitable world for all Americans.
STASIA: Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the conversation.
TYRONE: Yeah. Thank you for inviting me. Appreciate it.
MICHAEL: No, thank you both. Thank you for listening. We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. Please consider leaving us a review on Apple podcast or your favorite listening app, as it helps others to discover the show. We encourage you to listen to other episodes in this series, as well as other podcasts from SSIR. This podcast series is made possible with the support of Schwab Charitable, who played an important role in the selection of topics and speakers. For important disclosures and a transcript of this episode, visit SchwabCharitable.org/ImpactPodcast.
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