By Todd Cohen
[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation. I am working with the Foundation as senior communications adviser.]
In Charlotte, Johnson C. Smith University is developing an exhibition on black philanthropy that will tour college campuses starting next January in an effort to engage younger generations earlier in giving.
In Raleigh, the Wake County Public School System has studied the high rate at which black males are suspended from school.
Instrumental in kickstarting and helping to develop both efforts are black giving circles in which African Americans pool their dollars and know-how to support and get involved with causes they care about.
African-American giving has been the focus of Black Philanthropy Month in August, and will be spotlighted in Durham in October for the 10th anniversary celebration of the Community Investment Network, a national network of black giving circles. [Triangle Community Foundation is a sponsor of the event.]
“We are philanthropists, affirming a fact and a long legacy, and inspiring people to step up and embrace that fact in how they give, and to engage in community change,” says Valaida Fullwood, a Charlotte-based writer and consultant who is serving as the Network’s interim executive director.
With roughly 20 member giving circles throughout the U.S. with a total of about 260 individual members, including more than half-a-dozen circles in North Carolina, the Network represents a shift in philanthropy from a focus mainly on dollars to a focus on “leadership development for members through grantmaking experience and donor education that giving circles provide,” Fullwood says
The organizer and one of 17 founders in 2006 of New Generation of African American Philanthropists Charlotte, a giving circle at Foundation for the Carolinas, Fullwood also is the author of Giving Back, a 2011 book about traditions of giving and philanthropy in the African-American community.
She has visited 22 cities in 12 states, championing black giving at 60 forums hosted by community foundations, churches, museums and other groups.
Veronica Hemmingway, senior donor engagement officer at Triangle Community Foundation, which is home to five African-American giving circles, says giving circles represent an “on-ramp for all communities of color” to institutional philanthropy.
“The definition of philanthropy traditionally has been very narrow and not very inclusive of any group of color,” she says. “It’s typically defined as high net worth.”
A key goal of Black Philanthropy Month is to “broaden the conversation to include all people participating in philanthropy,” she says.
Working with black giving circles, she says, community foundations can “begin to identify members of communities of color who can be possible fundholders, or develop relationships with people in the community and bring organizations to light they might normally not have been aware of.”
Concerned about the high suspension rate among black males in the Wake public schools, for example, a giving circle at Triangle Community Foundation known as A Legacy of Tradition and comprising African America men, worked with the schools to develop a way to address the issue, she says.
Fullwood says that her giving circle in Charlotte approached Johnson C. Smith University, a historically black institution, about finding ways to involve younger African Americans in philanthropy.
That effort has led to $220,000 in funding from the federal Institute for Museum and Library Sciences, and Foundation for the Mid South, to support the exhibition on black philanthropy that will tour college campuses and also aims to involve students from kindergarten through high school.
Her giving circle also has hosted local forums on black philanthropy that have focused on topics such as planned giving, estate planning, collective giving and the history of black giving.
In August, for example, nearly 350 people registered for an event at Bank of America Auditorium that featured Emmett Carson, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, one the largest community foundations in the world.
His wife, Jaki Copeland-Carson, a consultant and scholar of black diaspora giving, founded Black Philanthropy Month in 2011.
“Part of all of our efforts is to reframe [philanthropy] for a new age, in a more inclusive way that includes a broader scope of giving — giving in all amounts, time and talent contributions, and the cultural competence in addressing community change,” Fullwood says.
A key focus, she says, is on “what it means to be human and, out of that focus on community and people, shifting the focus from the dollars to the people and communities that this giving in all its forms is trying to improve and transform.”