To Mark Black Philanthropy Month, Grant Makers Need to Double Down on Fight for Racial Justice
Across the United States and globally, Black leaders are showing what’s possible when they oppose unjust systems and design solutions that value diverse talent. This August, as we celebrate both Black Philanthropy Month and National Black Business Month we need to step back and not only commemorate those accomplishments — but take a hard look at the work that lies ahead.
More than two years after the racial reckoning of 2020, large scale philanthropic support too often comes as a reaction to demands for change from Black communities rather than as a collaborative effort. It took the sustained rallying cry following George Floyd’s murder to bring about a surge in philanthropic and corporate financial commitments to Black organizations, causes, and leadership. But recent research shows those commitments are faltering and remain episodic at best.
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Across the United States and globally, Black leaders are showing what’s possible when they oppose unjust systems and design solutions that value diverse talent. This August, as we celebrate both Black Philanthropy Month and National Black Business Month, we need to step back and not only commemorate those accomplishments but take a hard look at the work that lies ahead.
More than two years after the racial reckoning of 2020, large-scale philanthropic support too often comes as a reaction to demands for change from Black communities rather than as a collaborative effort. It took the sustained rallying cry following George Floyd’s murder to bring about a surge in philanthropic and corporate financial commitments to Black organizations, causes, and leadership. But recent research shows those commitments are faltering and remain episodic at best.
The outpouring of giving pledges in the wake of Floyd’s murder has not yet been met by the same level of actual dollars flowing to Black-led organizations, according to research on philanthropic and corporate racial-justice support. Even investments in new businesses founded by Black people have dropped significantly in recent months to just $324 million in the second quarter of this year from record levels of close to or more than $1 billion.
Such patterns of support are a significant barrier for Black communities that need sustained funding to create equitable paths to opportunity, self-determination, and economic mobility. To truly mark the achievements of Black philanthropy and businesses this month, let’s take this moment to consider what Black leaders need now and in the long term to drive lasting social change.
Bold grant making. Examples abound of what this can look like: MacKenzie Scott’s no-strings-attached giving of more than $12 billion to nonprofits since 2020. The Audacious Project’s latest disbursal of more than $900 million to social-change groups. The Asian American Foundation‘s $125 million commitment to support Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations and causes over the next five years.
Bold giving allows innovative leaders to go as far as their visions can take them. Consider the example of GirlTrek, which was founded in 2012 by two Black women — T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison — to inspire Black women to commit to daily walking to combat chronic disease. In 2018, the Audacious Project granted GirlTrek $15 million to expand its work. With that investment, the nonprofit was able to sharply boost membership to more than 1 million by 2020 and launch new campaigns, such as #BlackGirlJusticeLeague, a massive voter mobilization effort that rallied members to lead walks to voter registration and polling places. GirlTrek is now considered the largest public health nonprofit dedicated to Black women in the United States.
True collaboration. Effective partnerships with nonprofits require grant makers to recognize their position within the relationship and identify the specific skills, talents, and resources they bring to the table. The relationship between the organization I lead — Echoing Green — and our partner Comcast NBCUniversal shows what this can look like.
As a media and technology company, Comcast NBCUniversal, through its foundation, has not only funded Echoing Green’s work, but it has also used its expertise and reach in the broadcast world to expand awareness of that work. Specifically, the two organizations partnered to produce a documentary, “Unwavering: the Power of Black Innovation,” showcasing the first-hand perspective of Black social innovators, including those supported through Echoing Green’s Black Male Achievement Fellowship program. Comcast broadcast the documentary on NBC-owned and -affiliated stations across the United States, reaching audiences that otherwise would never have heard its messages about the power of innovative Black leaders and the structural inequities and chronic underfunding they face.
This type of intentional collaboration used the specific strengths of each partnering organization to elevate Black leaders and the often-unheralded work they are doing in communities across the country.
Genuine trust. At the start of the donor-grantee partnership, grant makers must establish a relationship with Black leaders that is based on trust. That means avoiding imposing solutions and instead believing in the expertise of those they are funding. These leaders, after all, are closest to the communities they serve and the issues they are tackling. They have the experience, relationships, and assets essential for developing and deploying effective solutions.
They include leaders such as Echoing Green Fellow Quardean Lewis-Allen, founder and CEO of Youth Design Center, which helps young people in Brownsville, Brooklyn, connect with mentors and pursue careers in design and technology. The source of Quardean’s expertise: growing up in Brownsville himself and experiencing a lack of youth development and mentorship opportunities in the STEM profession. The young people who participate in Youth Design Center’s programs also work with community leaders to address specific problems in their neighborhood and reimagine public spaces to better serve their needs. Their latest projects include the creation of a youth clubhouse, pedestrian plaza, and community sanctuary designed for healing and creativity.
Greater accountability. All grant makers need to hold themselves accountable for the continuing support of Black leaders and communities. A joint analysis from PolicyLink and the Bridgespan Group found that data transparency plays a crucial role in moving from the intention to fund racial-equity work to actually getting the job done in a lasting and effective way. To ensure the transformation of philanthropic norms, practices, and culture, donors must regularly share how much of their funding is going to racial-equity efforts, to organizations led by people of color, and to multiyear, general operating support.
Such transparency will help Black leaders understand how they can collaborate with philanthropic partners on shared, long-term goals. Donors can demonstrate an even deeper commitment to equity goals by regularly reporting progress on their work-force and business operations as well as their giving.
The tumultuous year of 2020 has faded for many grant makers as other crises unfold on a near daily basis and push the fight for racial justice and equity out of the headlines. But philanthropy must not lose focus. Black leaders everywhere know what their communities need to thrive, but they can’t do it without significant and continuing philanthropic support. During this Black Philanthropy Month, let’s show Black leaders that we’ll stand with them for as long as it takes to achieve the equitable society we all know is possible.