Tell us a little about your background. How did you get into philanthropy?
It’s a story with a lot of twists and turns. I started in education. I went to Title 1 schools and then got a scholarship to attend Columbus School for Girls in Columbus, Ohio. The difference between my private school and the public schools I had attended was immediately visible. My public school had a 50 percent dropout rate. At my new school, 100 percent of the mostly white students would go on to college. It was deeply unfair.
I understood that the system was designed this way after I read Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools by Jonathan Kozol. Inequity was baked into the system; it wasn’t a mistake.
After school, I went to work for a Senate subcommittee on education. That was the entry into political work that eventually also led me to philanthropy.
You are now leading the Donors of Color Project. Tell us about that.
I co-founded the Donors of Color Project with Urvashi Vaid, Hali Lee, and Tuhina De O’Connor in 2015. Urvashi and I initially connected through the Women Donors Network. They knew we were both talking to donors of color and both realizing that most weren’t finding a home with any of the existing intermediaries.
We did the research and wrote The Apparitional Donor: Understanding and Engaging High Net Worth Donors of Color. We knew that people of color have enough wealth to do transformational philanthropy. They just needed a place to come together.
We also benchmarked other movements. For example, marriage equality happened because a group of gay donors (mostly white men) came together and used all of their social and political capital towards a disciplined and aligned strategy. We want to create similar impact with high-net-worth people of color “aligned towards an ambitious common purpose.”
Our individual team members aren’t as wealthy as our donors, but we knew we could put the infrastructure behind this network. We also did a lot of research on other donor networks and learned that they only achieve impact if there are shared values. So, we’re doing the work to make sure our community grows from aligned values of cross-racial work and systemic change that creates racial equity. We are also committed to doing this work with joy because we think the way we do the work and build our community will show up profoundly in the outcomes we build together.
Collective giving and giving circles are exploding in growth. What advice would you give other philanthropists?
The founders of any new organization or collective are key because we’ve yet to see a donor organizing group go far beyond the values, beliefs, and ideologies – in short, the DNA of its founders. Also, organizing around identity alone doesn’t work. The shared values piece is so important. For example, in the Donors of Color Project, our donors will be willing to interrogate the systems that helped them build their wealth. That would be transformational.
What else do you want people to know about your work or philanthropy?
Philanthropy is a fundamentally broken system. It is mostly built from the idea that people who don’t live in a community know best how to fix what is wrong. Really trusting communities to have their own answers is so important. There is so much genius in communities and that is what will save all of us. As philanthropists, we need to resource the leaders and solutions closest to the problems. We’ll be so much more effective if we do.
Also, philanthropy has a leading edge. There is a new generation of philanthropists that are trying to change things. For example, Edgar Villanueva’s book, Decolonizing Wealth, is important and gaining traction. He is talking about using money as a tool to heal communities and restore justice versus further divide us.
Read the Black Woman's Guide to Philanthropy at BlackHer.