Connecting with the Black Philanthropic Community

February 13, 2013

By Akira Barclay

African-Americans have a rich history of philanthropy.  Giving 8.6% of their discretionary income to charity, Blacks give more than any other racial group in the United States. Still, tapping into the generosity of this group remains a mystery for many including community foundations looking for ways to connect with new donors in an effort to combat their waning relevance in the marketplace.

It is no secret that myriad benefits can be realized by those who succeed in making a meaningful connection to Black philanthropic community. But how? First, consider the following:

  • Your relationships with professional advisors may not be sufficient to connect with African-American donors:

Many community foundations rely on their relationships with advisors to refer individuals and families who are interested in philanthropy.  But are you sure African Americans with wealth are working with the same advisors? Also, misperceptions about community foundations may exist among some professionals. Advisors who do not understand that a community foundation is a neutral giving vehicle and not an end in itself may fail to make the referral out of fear that they are promoting a specific nonprofit or cause. Whether it is misperception on the part of the advisor or some other issue creating a disconnect, it makes sense to complement your relationships with professional advisors with other modes of outreach in order to successfully connect with African-American donors.

  • Your image (or lack of) in the Black community may need repairing:

Community foundations are not generally well known and often misunderstood. If mention of your institution elicits a blank stare this is an indicator that more visibility is needed. African-Americans who are largely unaware of a community foundation’s grantmaking in their communities, the impact of those grants or the people who make the grant decisions will not see the community foundation as a trusted partner in their personal giving.  Additionally, foundation philanthropy for some in the African American community has become confused with fundraising and events.  Specific education may be needed about the community foundation model and services being designed to support donors with effective grantmaking, versus operating programs, planning events or fundraising.

  • How can you be more inclusive?

Studies show that African-Americans who give to community foundations tend to have had the benefit of an existing relationship with community foundation staff or Board leadership prior to opening their funds.  In some instances, African-American donors have even served as Trustees or committee members of the community foundations that host their fund.  This meaningful engagement affords them familiarity with the institution beyond what the average community member has and is an important element in developing trust.

Here are three ways you can begin to building bridges to the Black philanthropic community:

  1. Expand your definition of wealth – While media reports of recent megagifts to a handful of community funds dominate the headlines, ultra high net worth individuals are not the only population worth pursuing.  Welcome simple and significant wealth by reaching out to middle class donors of color.  Establishing meaningful relationships in the early wealth-building stages, particularly with entrepreneurs creates history. That history breeds trust and makes you a more likely recipient of future largesse.
  2. Consider collaborating with a Black giving circle – Giving circles are organized and self-governed groups of community philanthropists who are well-known in Black communities all over the country because of their responsiveness, influence and impact on pressing issues. Giving circles like members of The Community Investment Network  engage African-Americans from various sectors.  A strategic collaboration can help raise the profile of your foundation in the Black community and aid in your ongoing relationship building.
  3. Be patient – Cultivating relationships with African-American donors requires strong and sustained institutional commitment. Particularly if your institution is overcoming a previous lack of commitment to actively pursue African-American donors the connection will not happen overnight.  But those willing to make a long-term sincere effort will realize a healthy African-American donor base, the results of a history of relationships, trust and experience as an honest partner.

Akira Barclay ( is New York Contributor to (

8 Responses
  1. Renee says:

    Very informative article. While I am familiar with my local community foundation, the majority of my black donor friends don’t even know what a community foundation is. Community foundations will hopefully put more effort into reaching out to this growing donor base.

  2. Great article. Points that particularly resonated with me:

    Expanding the Definition of Wealth– the uber rich are not the only people capable of giving, especially when factoring in multi-payment and multi-year pledges which may not have an immediate significant impact on an organization, but certainly contribute to its income.

    Community Meetings on the Community Foundation model– this rang loudly for me. Whenever I discuss community foundations with people who are not in the non-profit/foundation world, I always have to explain what it is, and how it works. Due to historical economic factors, the concept of giving has been significantly limited for a number of reasons. Money – in fairly small amounts- is given to churches, food banks, shelters, etc, and not necessarily in a strategic way.

    I think generally speaking, the outreach piece is a significant, once foundations re-think the rhetorical question of “who is wealthy?” and then determine strategies to reach them, based on some of the well laid-out solutions presented above.

    • Akira says:


      Thanks so much for your feedback. How do people from outside the nonprofit and foundation world respond to your explanation of community foundations and how they work?

      • Leah Ruffin says:

        Hi Akira,

        I just visited the blog and saw your comments.

        People generally respond in an “enlightened” manner. Like they are learning something. Not overly excited, but satisfied with the knowledge of a new, basic level understanding of how foundations work.

        It would be interesting to try and take one of these conversations further, beyond just an ‘enlightenment’ phase to an ‘engagement’ phase, providing more in-depth information on how the foundation assets are stewarded, types of non-profits that are represented, and how they could possibly be involved….

  3. […] the California Community Foundation’s blog Giving in L.A. to read my guest post about how community foundations can better connect with African-American […]

  4. Noelle Ito says:

    Thank you for this great post. I really appreciate the bridge building tips and think these three suggestions can also be ways to start connecting with the Asian American & Pacific Islander community. As demographics in the US continue to shift, it will be interesting to see how community foundations support long standing grassroots philanthropy efforts in communities of color.

    • Akira says:


      Thank you for your feedback and for pointing out that these considerations can be applicable to Asian American & Pacific Islander and other communities of color. I address this in my larger body of work and think supporting longstanding grassroots philanthropy efforts and engaging with giving circles can help community foundations gain greater cultural competency.

  5. […] Connect with African American donors.  Akira Barclay of Giving in LA explains how to do it: “Cultivating relationships with African-American donors requires strong and […]

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