Reuters NewMedia - February 23, 2012
NEW YORK (Reuters) - African American donors give away higher
percentages of their incomes than white donors, according to a
But they don't see themselves as big players in the charitable
arena, and that presents an image problem, say experts like Judy
Belk, a senior vice president for Rockefeller Philanthropy
"African Americans have been very uncomfortable with the title of
philanthropist," Belk said. "If you don't see role models who
look like you when people start talking about issues related to
philanthropy, you start believing, 'Hey, maybe I'm not a
Belk said she got so weary of hearing this that she helped
produce a 12-minute video released in November, dubbed, "I Am A
Philanthropist," which features diverse faces, races and
ethnicities of donors and grant-makers.
Despite the challenges presented by that image problem, blacks do
play a major, growing role in philanthropic circles. Each year,
black donors give away 25 percent more of their incomes than
white donors, according to a report released last month by the
W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.
Nearly two-thirds of black households make charitable donations,
worth a total of about $11 billion a year, the report said.
The report cites black churches as a historically important
repository of giving, but notes that other important causes are
coming to the fore.
While religious giving was the largest charitable category
overall, it leveled off in dollar terms in 2010, according to
Giving USA, a Chicago-area foundation that publishes philanthropy
data and trends. At the same time, contributions for the arts
increased almost 6 percent, a trend that was consistent across
all racial groups.
Identity-based giving is gaining momentum in the Latino, Asian
American, Arab American, and Native American communities,
according to the Kellogg report.
Black Americans have produced the steadiest growth of new
identity-based charitable funds over the last four decades of any
racial or ethnic group examined in the report. While 12 black
funds existed in 1970, more than six times that number exist
today. They award grants that range from $1,250 to $17 million,
and they have a median annual grantmaking budget of $35,000.
Belk said she is encouraged by the new findings, but added that
much work needs to be done to connect blacks to resources that
can help them strategize their philanthropic giving.
"It's confirmed what many of us who had our ear to the ground
already knew," said Belk.
FINDING ISSUES THAT RESONATE
She suggested that charitable organizations find bridges between
black donors and issues that will resonate with them: Global
health organizations, for example, could launch giving campaigns
encouraging blacks to help fight AIDS in Africa, while
environmental groups could work toward getting black donors to
take on toxic pollution that affects minority communities.
"Many diverse donors say they are not seeing organizations reach
out to them," she said. "I've heard fundraisers for environmental
organizations assume that African Americans aren't interested.
But a lot of organizations are missing an opportunity by not
reaching out to this group."
Charities can also make an effort to get involved with new
websites that focus on the efforts of black philanthropists, she
says. These include Millions Give Back, a campaign that's part of
the Women's Funding Network and open to women with at least
$25,000 to give; and Black Gives Back, a chronicle of black
philanthropy with a special focus on younger donors.
Belk said African-Americans give now "because we have been the
beneficiaries of giving and generosity."
Belk, who attended Northwestern University, received financial
support from charitable donors and became the first generation in
her family to go to college.
"One of the reasons that I give is that philanthropy has been so
transformative in my own life," she said.
Others, such as Cheryl Pemberton of New York City, hope to set an
example that blacks can follow. Pemberton is featured on Bolder
Giving, a website that shares stories of people pledging
significant percentages of their assets to worthy causes. With
five sorority sisters, she started the Five Pearls Foundation to
increase prenatal education and enhance youth and community
development programs for underserved communities.
The philanthropic spirit, Pemberton said, is something she grew
up with: "My mother was always teaching us about our history,
encouraging us to be proud of our heritage and taking action
against injustice. And my father was active in our neighborhood
association and taking a stand on issues that affected the
Another mode of giving is modeled by Woodrow Myers, Jr., a man so
motivated to give that he packed up a hospital and shipped it
halfway across the world.
A director at the Stanford University Hospital and Clinics and
managing director of his own healthcare management company, Myers
first visited Mozambique in 1988. Struck by the acute need for
healthcare supplies there, he got his chance to do something big
when the Robert F. Kennedy Medical Center in Los Angeles closed
at the end of 2004.
Myers arranged to have the remains of that hospital shipped to
Mozambique in three giant ocean containers. Those big boxes held
beds, TVs, operating-room equipment, sterile surgical packs and
pictures of Robert F. Kennedy.
Myers' son and daughter formed the Myers Family Foundation in
"It allows them to work with me, and to bring the family
together," Myers said, adding, to "get your family involved and
do it in a sustained way over time, that's so much better than
just writing checks to whoever asks you for them, or dumping all
your money in one place."
Belk agreed, and said she believed that the future of
African-American giving also boils down to a diversity in
charities. As blacks continue to expand the causes they give to
and establish more funds and foundations, they'll no longer have
to question their identity as philanthropists -- just the best
ways to create commanding legacies of giving.
(Editing by Linda Stern and Andrea Evans)