As the face of an ever-diversifying nation changes, so will the face of American philanthropy. I previously wrote about a 2021 Bank of America study of philanthropy, in partnership with Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, which examined a rising crop of young and diverse donors. As Una Osili at Indiana University explained, a driving force behind the study was better understanding what high-net-worth philanthropy looks like, and how it is changing.
These sorts of studies will be crucial going forward, as they challenge false notions about wealth and philanthropy, shine a light on rising donors’ motivations and interests, and open the door for potentially powerful donor organizing and networking.
The latest example comes from Donors of Color Network (DOCN), which just released “Philanthropy Always Sounds Like Someone Else: A Portrait of High Net Worth Donors of Color.” The report analyzes the experiences and funding preferences of BIPOC donors across the country, and their work in racial, social and climate justice, as well as other issues like women’s rights. Among several interesting findings, the report states that nearly every donor interviewed personally experienced racial or ethnic bias that influenced their giving.
Urvashi Vaid, a co-author of the report and one of the founders of Donors of Color Network, hopes the research will fill important gaps in knowledge. “Donor networks themselves have grown in number over the past few decades, but the presence of people of color in those networks remains pretty minimal,” explained Vaid.
As a result, she wanted to get a better handle on the kind of philanthropy being done by high-net-worth people of color, and even more generally, about donors of color at every level. Back in 2015, Vaid assumed it was a simple matter of connecting with academics and organizations who had done this kind of work. But what she discovered is that there is little information out there.
In 2017, Vaid and Ashindi Maxton, another DOCN co-founder, co-wrote “The Apparitional Donor: Understanding and Engaging High-Net-Worth Donors of Color,” a landscape analysis that examines giving patterns and priorities of high-net-worth (HNW) people of color.
“I had a hunch that we were present, but not visible. We had to be networked. But where were we networked? So over the last few years, it’s been very exciting, because we’ve established that there clearly are people of color that are giving at every level,” Vaid told me.
“Philanthropy Always Sounds Like Someone Else,” another DOCN report with a memorable title, included the following key findings: 65% of high-net-worth BIPOC are first-generation wealth creators; nearly every donor interviewed personally experienced racial or ethnic bias that influenced their philanthropic/political giving; and 44.4% ranked social justice as one of their five top priorities. The report involved interviews with 113 high-net-worth BIPOC donors whose total aggregate annual giving amounted to $56 million, with median annual giving of $87,500.
Vaid mentioned that many of these donors expressed an interest in giving for education, some driven by their standing as the first in their family to attend college. She also emphasized that these donors speak to the personal toll of racism they experienced. While we’ve written at length about how the murder of George Floyd and worldwide Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 galvanized predominantly white donors to think about their privilege and act, it’s also important to note that Black and other POC donors give toward racial justice and equity, as well, driven by deeply personal motivations.
Going forward, Vaid’s hope is to continue with these kinds of reports and build out this network of high-net-worth donors, because these donor networks often set philanthropic agendas. For these reasons, Vaid and Donors of Color Network want to make sure that people of color are in the room when the agenda is set.
“Sure, we have this new phenomenon, the MacKenzie Scott type of giving, which isn’t directed. But before that, most high-net-worth philanthropy has really been tied to the donors’ interest, and donor networks set an agenda, in that sense, for social movements and nonprofits seeking funding.” Vaid said.