When you hear “philanthropy,” what do you think about?
A few years ago, I thought of rich, usually white folks, giving out 1-2% of their vast wealth to a huge, well-known nonprofit. While noble as a deed, I often wondered how gifts of that nature impact people in the long term.
Growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, I saw philanthropy in a different way, sometimes by a different name. I would often go to volunteer in different capacities alongside my parents, and was taught to ensure I was giving back to my local community. This also looked like tithing at church, or using my allowance to purchase toiletries so I could make gift bags to give to our houseless neighbors.
Then, when I was around nine years old, my parents got together with a few of their friends and created a giving circle called the Next Generation of African American Philanthropists (NGAAP). Through this group, they would collect a portion of their wealth each year, and give out a grant to one or a few different individuals and organizations around our city. Soon after, they joined a network of other giving circles doing the same thing in their towns and cities across America.
The part that stuck with me, as an impressionable pre-teen, was the fact that these were Black and brown folks doing this work. This is what it meant to me to be a philanthropist: participating in community giving. Growing up, I continued to watch closely, and by the time I hit undergrad, I began to build my own “giving thesis.” How did I want to exercise my giving power? How could I make an impact or gather with others to do the same? How could I do this as a college student with little to no money?
It’s hard to know the answer to these questions, but in a time where a lot of my community’s needs aren’t being met, I still feel like there’s more I can do. To be honest, there’s a lot we all can do, even if we feel like our capacity to give is small. You see, it’s about supporting your community just as they support you. None of us got to where we are or can continue to progress without help from our community.
The year 2020 alone has shown us the power Black and brown communities have when it comes to stepping up and supporting each other. Whether it’s through mutual aid funds, protesting or supporting Black businesses, we’ve finally begun to really hold each other down collectively. The Kellogg Foundation reports that Black households give around 25% more of their income than white households. Traditionally, we have given away more of our wealth to sustain our village and ensure our basic needs are met. So it’s not hard to imagine the variety of ways that a person can start to give from wherever they’re at.
As a college student, this looked like me donating my time by sorting food at food banks, or cooking and serving food at shelters. As I graduated and began my professional journey, I was able to use my talent of project management to aid nonprofit organizations in executing programming. I also started to increase the amount of treasure I was giving, by donating to causes that were important to me and joining my parents in their giving circle. And finally, I began using my voice to share my testimony, as I joined the board of our giving circle network, The Community Investment Network (CIN) and hosted power hours with other members where we shared stories of giving and community.
Through these four Ts (time, talent, treasure, testimony), I learned that I could give by design and that philanthropy wasn’t one-size-fits-all. This is true for anyone who takes the time to give back and serve their community. The intent we carry into philanthropy is how we change the way it looks and operates. With this mindset, the impact can look like hosting conversations about Black entrepreneurship and giving at the barbershop. It can even look like raising $10,000 in 24 hours for families in need during a global health crisis. When you are intentional in giving and leverage the power of giving collectively, your impact grows — and philanthropy is one of many tools to do this.
Now when you hear “philanthropy,” what do you think about? For me, this word evokes my village. I hear local grants, scholarships from my church and giving circles. What will philanthropy or giving mean when you say it?
Tobi Shannon is a strategist and community investor — eager to be a good ancestor by donating her time, talent, treasure and testimony whenever possible.