(The writer is a Reuters contributor.)
By Lou Carlozo
NEW YORK, Feb 23 African American donors
give away higher percentages of their incomes than white donors,
according to a new study.
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
"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 philanthropist.'"
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
Nearly two-thirds of black households make charitable
donations, worth a total of about $11 billion a year, the report
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
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
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 community."
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
"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)