“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic justice which make philanthropy necessary.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963
Mr. and Mrs. Roberts (not their real name) are an African American couple in their 70s, retired and loving life. She was a C-suite executive for most of her career; he was a medical doctor. They raised their two children in a large American city and continue to live there. They both grew up in families with modest means, and both their families participated in the Great Migration of African American families from the rural south to the industrial northern Midwest post-World War II. Their parents were postal workers, school teachers and custodial workers. The Roberts worked hard, lived frugally, saved and invested wisely. Now, in their 70s, they enjoy traveling and collecting art. Recently, they made a bequest to a major art museum of art and cash valued at over one million dollars. They are generous philanthropists, giving around $100,000 per year, mostly to projects that help low income students gain access to greater opportunity.
Philanthropy as a sector in the U.S. has not always been inclusive or reflective of our increasingly diverse society, but high net worth donors of color like Mr. and Mrs. Roberts represent a large and growing segment of the American philanthropic landscape.
If you are looking for more articles and resources for Impact Philanthropy, take a look at these Giving Compass selections related to impact giving and Impact Philanthropy.
I am part of a brilliant team that is engaged in a multiyear, multi-part project around researching, interviewing, engaging and networking high net worth donors of color. We are lucky to hear, record and (someday soon) share amazing, inspiring, generous stories of Americans – individuals who descend from enslaved people, were born here or immigrated to our wonderful country. We’ve conducted 49 individual interviews so far (we aim to do 100) and many HNW donors of color express a keen desire to move the needle on issues related to racial, economic and social justice.
Our initial finding demonstrates that high net worth (HNW) people of color (POC) are generous and philanthropically engaged but that they remain invisible to mainstream philanthropy and isolated from each other, rendering their giving less impactful.
The absence of HNW donors of color as an organized force in philanthropy has material consequences. It renders critical experiences, resources and talent missing at a moment in which our society requires new ideas, investment and innovation.
As we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this month and mourn the 50th anniversary of his assassination this year, this is an opportune moment to think together how we as donors can influence and support projects that advance racial, social and economic justice.
9 Ways to Advance Racial, Social and Economic Justice
Earlier this month, we witnessed a confluence of social equity activism and pop culture at the Golden Globes. Eight women actors brought eight women activists as their plus ones. The organizations they represent are great places to start if you’re looking to support on-the-ground activists and projects that advance racial, social and economic justice in a systemic change way:
- Marai Larasi is the executive director of Imkaan, a British network of organizations working to end violence against black and minority women.
- Tarana Burke is the senior director of the nonprofit Girls for Gender Equity. She also founded the #MeToo movement.
- Saru Jayaraman, a workplace justice advocate for restaurant workers, is Co-Founder of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) and Director of the Food Labor Research Center at UC Berkeley.
- Ai-jen Poo is the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.
- Mónica Ramírez, co-founder of Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, fights sexual violence against farmworkers and pushes for Latina empowerment.
- Rosa Clemente is a community organizer who is focused on political prisoners, voter engagement and Puerto Rican independence.
- Billie Jean King, tennis champion, is the founder of the Women’s Tennis Association and of the Women’s Sports Foundation which aims to ensure all girls have access to sports.
- Calina Lawrence, a Suquamish Tribe member, is a singer and activist for, among other causes, Native American treaty and water rights.
I’m also a huge fan of the Emergent Fund, a rapid response fund for organizing in the most threatened communities – Black, Native, Asian, Immigrant, Muslim, LGBTQ and Latino. Funding decisions are made by activists, including two MacArthur “Genius” fellowship recipients.
As we continue our philanthropic efforts, let’s keep the ideals and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in our minds and hearts. His civil rights leadership evolved to become the cross-race Poor Peoples’ Campaign. He urged us all to call out and fight against the inequities that undergird the American dream. Immigrant and POC communities in our country are increasingly affluent and influential. Let’s work together to organize and include these new resources for equitable social change.
Original contribution by Hali Lee, Co-Founder, Co-Executive Director of Faces of Giving.
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