“The story of philanthropy in the United States has not been fully told, for it has been told historically as a largely white story, a largely inherited wealth story” — So begins a new report by Hali Lee, Urvashi Vaid, and Ashindi Maxton, titled Philanthropy Always Sounds Like Someone Else: A Portrait of High Net Worth Donors of Color.

At NPQ, we have written often about the racial wealth gap. The latest Federal Reserve data, based on the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finance, which john powell cited in NPQ earlier this year, indicates that US median white household wealth was $181,440 compared to $20,730 for Black Americans, with the median Latinx family at $36,180. Because the wealthy boost the average, the mean is higher: $951,348 for a white household, compared to $139,797 for a Black household, with the mean Latinx household wealth at $192,200. Slice the data as you will, one message is clear—white wealth exceeds Black wealth by an extraordinary degree.

Perhaps in part because wealth is so racially skewed, philanthropy—particularly big-dollar “high net worth individual” giving—is often treated as an all-white realm. But the data show otherwise. Lee, Vaid, and Maxton note that, despite the racial wealth gap,  there are “at least 1.3 million households led by a person of color in the United States with net liquid assets of one million dollars or more” (2). This makes sense. If you look at Figure 2 in powell’s article, you’ll notice that the wealthiest 10 percent of Black and Latinx households in the US as of 2019 had a mean net worth of over $1 million.

So, how do these households give? This is a key framing question for the study. Between 2016 and 2018 the study’s authors conducted 113 long-form (average of 90 minute) interviews of BIPOC millionaire donors, making their report “the largest qualitative research study conducted thus far of high net worth and ultra-high net worth people of color in the United States.”

It may seem odd to write this, but one of the more interesting report sections is the authors’ discussion of methodology, particularly because this report establishes a baseline. As the authors point out, “There were no data sets of wealthy BIPOC givers to which the research team had ready access.” In fact, they add, “the project has itself created that data set.”

For this reason, finding a pool of interview subjects relied on an organizing, rather than a statistical sampling, approach. To identify donors to interview, the researchers relied on personal networks, along with 30 public presentations they made to over 1,500 people (about 50 people per forum). Interviews were done in person, which meant limiting interviews to a set number of urban metropolitan areas, including New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Dallas/North Texas, Phoenix, Denver, Boston, Washington, DC, Seattle, and Miami.

Finding interview subjects who had the ability to give $50,000 a year or more was not easy. Of the 113 interviewed, 34 reportedly gave $50,000 or less a year, 55 between $50,000 and $300,000 a year, and two dozen over $300,000 (13 of whom gave over $1 million a year). Combined, the interviewees reported giving an annual total of $56 million, an average of nearly $500,000 per person. All told, 27 of the 113 interviewees reported having over $30 million in assets, making them qualify as “ultra-high net worth” donors.

Read the full article about research on donors of color by Steve Dubb at Nonprofit Quarterly.