Giving Compass' Take:

• Dr. Tyrone Freeman debunks the myth that African Americans are emerging donors, detailing the historical diversity in donorship over the years. 

• What are the consequences of this inaccurate portrayal of African American philanthropists?

• Check out these profiles of Black female philanthropists in the series called #BlackWomenGive. 

In our third post about philanthropy in America and in Myth #4 of Stanford Social Innovation Review’s article “Eight Myths of U.S. Philanthropy,” Dr. Tyrone Freeman, assistant professor of philanthropic studies and director of undergraduate programs at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, illustrates that African Americans are not new or emerging donors.

Instead, he shows that these donors have given since the first enslaved Africans disembarked in Virginia in 1619.

Four hundred years of formal and informal giving and volunteering woven throughout American history. Dr. Freeman provides multiple examples of generous gifts by African Americans over time.

  • James Forten, an African American philanthropist from colonial times, created wealth from sail-making and became a leader in the movement to end slavery by aiding runaways and financing abolitionist newspapers.
  • Thomy LaFon was born into a free family in 1810 in New Orleans. He grew up in poverty but became an entrepreneur, and helped finance the American Anti-Slavery Society and the Underground Railroad.
  • Colonel John McKeee provided housing for black migrants who traveled north after the Civil War, while A.G. Gaston donated time, talent, and treasure to the civil rights movement. The Birmingham, Alabama Boys and Girls Club is named after Gaston.

Painting African Americans as “new and emerging” not only ignores hundreds of years of giving, it also distorts nonprofits’ ideas of how and in what ways African Americans can give, and inhibits those nonprofits from properly reaching out and soliciting gifts.

“The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approaches to fundraising and philanthropy overlooks motivations, interests, and needs of donors of color. The unfortunate result is misalignment in our identification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship strategies, which fail to effectively engage this important community,” Dr. Freeman explains.

Read the full article about diverse and historic philanthropy in America by Abby Rolland at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.