Cultures of Giving: Energizing and Expanding Philanthropy by and for Communities of Color (Full Report)

Jan 1, 2012

The face of philanthropy is changing. Throughout history, the word "philanthropy has been used almost exclusively to describe the generous giving of large sums of money—typically by millionaires and billionaires. It's no surprise, then, that philanthropy came to be perceived as the elite turf of the wealthy. Sure, "everyday" people might read about philanthropy in the headlines. They might even benefit from its generosity in direct or indirect ways. But they weren't the subject of the sentence. They weren't perceived as the doers of philanthropy.

Well, that was the old philanthropy. In recent years, the definition of philanthropy has begun to widen to include a larger swath of human generosity. Under this budding definition, "philanthropy" encompasses any-size contributions not just from the wealthy, but from peopleof every income bracket. It includes donations not just of money but of time and know-how. And its practitioners aren't just the elite and the white. They are nurses, plumbers, hairdressers and civil servants. They are African-American, Latino, Native American, Arab-American and Asian- American. And rather than practice their philanthropy in isolation, these everyday philanthropists are pooling their money—in increasingly organized ways—for greater impact.

This groundbreaking movement to activate and organize giving within and on behalf of America's communities of color—known as identity-based philanthropy—is the subject of this report. In the early 1990s, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation became one of the first major foundations to study and support this emerging field. Since then, we have become the largest single funder of identity-based funds in the country. Much of that funding has been organized through one key program—Cultures of Giving—the strategies and lessons of which are described in the pages that follow.

  • Identity-based funds raise and distribute nearly $400 million a year.
  • Though racial minorities are underrepresented on mainstream philanthropic boards, informal philanthropy has long been common among communities of color.
  • African Americans give away 25 percent more of their income per year than whites.
  • Communities in philanthropy have long seen one another as being in competition for limited resources; however, building connections and fostering collaboration between identity-based funds has a strongly positive effect on their individual effectiveness.
  • Foundations should take an asset-based approach to funding communities of color, supplementing their resources and capacities so that they can create their own change and avoid the paternalism that sometimes plagues mainstream philanthropy.