How do you define philanthropy?
For me, philanthropy is about connections and awareness. One reason to be philanthropic is to help build awareness of causes and issues that people need to know about. Some people assume that you must have millions to give but that’s not true. The monetary part of philanthropy has no requirements or boundaries. The point of philanthropy is to connect with each other.
How did you get into philanthropy?
I was researching graduate schools and looking for a program focused on fundraising and nonprofits. I learned about Ebonie Johnson Cooper, a professor at Georgetown and the founder of Young Black & Giving Back Institute (YBGB). She’s one of the only Black professors taking about philanthropy. I reached out to her for an informational interview and after the call I had a role at YBGB. That was two years ago. Now, I am the logistics lead for the organization.
What does YBGB do?
We help Black millennials engage in philanthropy and civic service through workshops, events, and networking. We also host Giving Black Day, to promote financial support for Black-led and Black-benefiting grassroots organizations. It will be held this year on Aug. 28, 2019 which is an important date in history. On Aug. 28, 1955, Emmett Till was brutally murdered. On Aug. 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. On Aug. 28, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana. On Aug. 28, 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president, becoming the first Black man to ever win the nomination.
Our goal is to increase giving to Black-led and Black-benefitting nonprofits. We define “Black-led” as an organization where at least 50 percent of staff and board members are African American. Diversity of leadership in nonprofits is critical to achieving more impact in Black communities.
What’s a bright spot in philanthropy or the causes you care about?
I loved seeing Robert F. Smith’s recent gift to the young men of Morehouse to pay off their student loans. In addition to raising awareness about the role of philanthropy in education, this gift will enable these young men to choose their careers based on their passions versus their bank accounts. I hope that other philanthropists follow suit and that Smith’s giving spurs more conversation about the crisis of student loan debt. I also love that through his giving, Smith is educating and inspiring young Black men to pay it forward.
We want millennials to know that you don’t have to have a million-dollar network to be a philanthropist. I hope that big moves like this will encourage others to make smaller moves. For example, many folks can start $2,000 scholarships at their alma maters to benefit a future student.
I think there is a lot of philanthropic potential in alumni networks that goes untapped. I don’t think that alumni associations are doing enough to engage millennials of color in giving. Many predominantly white institutions cultivate white and older men to be donors and board members. They aren’t leveraging younger alumni and alumni of color. Our schools don’t think of us as givers and often we don’t think of ourselves as philanthropists either.
But we are giving!
We need to ask this question, “what is it that Black students and alumni need in order to stay engaged with their post-secondary institutions and become funders?”
I think it will help when colleges and universities do more to make us feel heard, valued and involved during school and after graduation. They also need to change their fundraising “pitch.” For example, instead of focusing on tax breaks as a rationale for giving, it’s important to tell millennials about the purpose of giving. Lead with “the why.”
Who are your philanthropic sheroes?
I learned a lot from Anna Barber, former senior manager gifts officer for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
And, of course, Ebonie Cooper Johnson is my mentor. I’ve learned a lot from watching her fundraise. She has helped me have my own voice and not be intimidated by funders.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
The Young, Black, and Giving Back Institute is powerful!
The energy and passion that young Black people have for giving is outstanding as are the connections we are making with each other.
We are the people who need to be on your boards of directors. I hope that more folks will mentor us and lead the way for those of us who want to be in philanthropy. Because philanthropy needs more Black people making decisions on how to invest in communities to change the world.
Read the Black Woman's Guide to Philanthropy at BlackHer.