There has been a lot of attention lately to the good, the bad, and the ins and outs of philanthropic giving. 

Some see philanthropy as just another way to perpetuate inequality and class privilege. Others recognize the power of philanthropy to help others in need, flex our altruistic muscles, change public policy, and address structural racism.

As nonprofit leaders, we take a nuanced view. Like many, we are skeptical about using philanthropy for self-aggrandizement or to endow a chair at an elite school. On the other hand, we recognize the power of philanthropy to get more kids into preschool, address climate change, increase voter turnout, make the tax code more progressive, and so much more.

At a time when Black women and Black communities are facing savage inequalities—a growing racial wealth divide, poor health and educational outcomes, and local environmental degradation—we must use all of the tools at our disposal to get ahead.

We’re eager to:

  • Celebrate Black women’s philanthropy
  • Direct our capital to the causes that need it most
  • Leverage our giving to build a better world

Let’s get started.

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This guide was generously sponsored by Giving Compass.


I choose to frame philanthropy around the human factor and the powerful force of love, instead of money alone. To me, philanthropy is ‘love of what it means to be human.’

According to the Oxford dictionary, philanthropy means love of humankind, and a philanthropist is “a person who seeks to promote the welfare of others.”

Sounds clear, right? But too few Black women think of themselves as philanthropists. Here’s why: Philanthropy in the U.S. is big business, and the term philanthropy has been co-opted by elites. 

According to Giving USA, over $427 billion was given to U.S. nonprofits in 2018. (Yes, that’s billion with a b.) In fact, total giving in the U.S. is about 2% of gross domestic product. The top three private foundations in the U.S. have assets in excess of $67 billion and include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($43 billion), the Ford Foundation ($13 billion), and the J. Paul Getty Trust ($11 billion).

While giving by the wealthy (and wealthy foundations) is important, it’s just a fraction of total giving in the U.S. In reality, the majority of charitable giving does not come from corporations or foundations or elites. Rather, it’s given by regular individuals like you (and us)! Millions of individuals and families have a proud tradition of giving away money to “promote the welfare of others” and support the people, places, and issues they care about.

2018 contributions: $427.71 billion by source



Black folks, and Black women in particular, are generous. We have a history of collective giving. From slavery to Jim Crow to civil rights to the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements today, we have always come together to pool our money and share our resources to fight for social, economic, and political justice. 

According to “Cultures of Giving: Energizing and Expanding Philanthropy by and for Communities of Color,” a report by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, “nearly two-thirds of African American households donate to organizations and causes, to the tune of $11 billion each year. Indeed, aggregate charitable giving by African Americans is increasing at a faster rate than either their aggregate income or aggregate wealth.”

And Black women do more than donate money—we give our time, talent, and testimony to support causes and communities.


“With the challenges we are facing in our world today, we need real change fast. We must disrupt the status quo.”

Philanthropy is a means to an end, and giving itself also matters. Here are three reasons why:

First, philanthropy done well creates social good. For example, think of the libraries, hospitals, parks, museums, schools, and houses of worship near you. These places are anchors in your community and important to the public. Sometimes they are funded by governments (through your tax dollars), but they are also heavily funded by the generosity of individuals (like you!). 

The Rosenwald schools are one example of the social good that philanthropy can promote. In the 1910s, Booker T. Washington, the president of Tuskegee Institute, and Julius Rosenwald, the president and co-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company, collaborated with local Black communities to build over 5,000 “Rosenwald schools” for Black children in the rural South. Rosenwald gave most of the money, while Washington’s team worked with rural Black communities across the South to raise cash (they had little), buy land and wood, and contribute sweat equity to make the schoolhouses happen. The communities often hired the teachers for the schools as well. The collaboration survived Washington’s death in 1915 and continued until Rosenwald’s death in 1932. According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, by then, one third of Black children attending schools in the South were in Rosenwald schools. But for these schools, these children might not have been educated at all, because their education and well-being were not a state priority. Thus, through our community and philanthropic efforts, hundreds of thousands of southern Black kids were taught to read and write in these schools; some are still alive today!    

Second, philanthropy done well creates social change. Consider the civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, and climate justice movements. All of these efforts to create a more just and equitable society were funded and continue to be fueled by philanthropic dollars (and lots of donated time). 

The Montgomery bus boycott, which followed Rosa Parks’s arrest for refusing to comply with local segregation laws and which launched the modern civil rights movement, is a great example of Black philanthropy supporting social change.  

In 1955, Black people represented 75% of passengers on the buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Still, once the boycott started, every Black person in Montgomery joined it to fight for their rights. Black folks still had to get to work, school, and other places. How did they survive? Through pooled cash, cars, and courage! Financial and other support also came to Montgomery from Black people nationwide. The result? The Black people of Montgomery achieved one of the most successful philanthropic efforts for social change in U.S. history.  

Across the nation, black churches raised money to support the boycott and collected new and slightly used shoes to replace the tattered footwear of Montgomery’s black citizens, many of whom walked everywhere rather than ride the buses and submit to Jim Crow laws.   

Third, philanthropy can bring people together across class, age, nationality, ethnicity, and race. Let me (Jocelyn) tell you a quick story. 

In 2013 I was working as a fundraiser for Global Fund for Children when I traveled to Haiti with a group of donors. The goal was simple—to visit some of the organizations and children we were supporting and encourage donors to give more. We spent time with several projects in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. One of the organizations we visited was Pazapa, which offered activities and classes for children living in the tent cities set up after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. During our visit, we toured the campus, talked to students and teachers, and sat in on a lecture. We enjoyed our interactions, but it wasn’t easy to “blend in.” We were outsiders—Americans there to observe. 

That changed when a student soccer match began. Our delegation found any surface we could and joined the staff and students to watch as the ball flew up and down the pitch. It was an exhilarating experience—and something happened. Our group stopped being aloof! We joined the crowd and were part of the action, cheering the sports team on. It didn’t matter who was rich or poor, Black or White, young or old. This is what philanthropy can do—bring people together, regardless of background or identity.

Above are some reasons why philanthropy is important for everyone. But there’s one more reason why it should matter to you: Black people give Black! Studies show that people who are from a community are much more likely to give to that community. 

We also know this intuitively. Faced by a neighbor in need or a friend in crisis, Black women give. Whether it’s our time or our money, we see and support each other. Giving to others is in our DNA. It’s the way we’re built. So if we want more giving to go to Black causes and communities (and we do!), we have to lead the way.

Let’s be clear, philanthropy alone is not the answer to the ills Black women face. Large-scale government intervention is gravely needed to address systemic racism in housing, employment, healthcare, education, criminal justice, and more. However, strategic, sustained, and coordinated giving by and for us can create change. It already has.

How does philanthropy work? Follow the 4 T’s

“I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver.”


One great way to be philanthropic is to donate your time, or volunteer. From teaching students to read to helping seniors with daily living to canvassing for a cause, volunteer opportunities abound. In addition to helping others, volunteering can help you build business skills and enhance your résumé. All of our Black Women to Watch in Philanthropy combine their dollars with volunteerism. 

Volunteering is also great for your health!

“Research has shown that volunteering leads to lower rates of depression, especially for individuals 65 and older. Volunteering increases social interaction and helps build a support system based on common interests—both of which have been shown to decrease depression.”

Mayo Clinic Health System

We can attest to the “caring high” that comes from serving others and building something together. We also love the idea of volunteering as a family. By teaching our children the power of volunteering, we’re creating a new generation of givers. 

Find volunteer opportunities at websites like Idealist and the Corporation for National and Community Service. VolunteerMatch is another great resource for finding charities or campaigns looking for volunteers like you. Simply enter your zip code, and VolunteerMatch will direct you to nonprofits needing support.

“It’s my duty to serve because of what I have derived from society. My service honors others who fought for freedom before me.”


Ready to step up your volunteer game? Consider sharing your talent with a nonprofit by joining its board of directors. Board service can be much more time consuming than occasional volunteerism, and it requires you to take more fiscal responsibility for the nonprofit, but as a board member you can have a deep impact on the nonprofit and your community. 

Nonprofits (and foundations!) need Black women leaders. According to Leading with Intent,” BoardSource’s report on nonprofit boards, “90 percent of chief executives and 84 percent of board members report as Caucasian (Figure P1). Twenty-seven (27) percent of boards identify as all white.”


This lack of diversity at the highest level of leadership in nonprofits is a huge miss because diverse and inclusive boards make better decisions! Period.

“The blind spots created by a lack of racial and ethnic diversity are particularly concerning, as they may result in strategies and plans that ineffectively address societal challenges and inequities, or even reinforce them.”


Our research indicates that nonprofits that advance women’s issues and serve women are not typically male dominated or led. Along these lines, take a look at “10 Incredible Nonprofits and the Women Behind Them.” See also the leaders at the National Organization for Women (NOW), the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Planned Parenthood. Yet many nonprofits that exist for the advancement and support of Black men, women, and children are exclusively led by White men and women. We need more Black women to serve on boards of directors to ensure that our lived experiences inform the goals, vision, strategy, and programming of more charitable organizations.

In our experience, board service is not easy, and no one wants to “integrate” an organization in their free time. That said, in addition to enhancing a nonprofit’s vision, strategy, and leadership, serving on a board of directors will benefit you. Board service is a great way to build your network and meet other influential people in and outside of your field. 

If you think you are ready to use your expertise, vision, and strategic thinking to take your favorite nonprofit to the next level, check out some of these resources from BoardSource. We also advise talking directly with other board members to learn about the organization’s culture, strategy, and governance.

“Activism is the rent I pay for living on this earth.”


A third approach for showing your love of humanity is using your voice, or testimony. Black women do this ALL THE TIME. Most of us don’t call it philanthropy, but it fits the definition, so maybe we should! From organizing and attending marches and rallies to writing about our experiences to creating art and films to highlight important issues, we show our love of humanity by telling otherwise untold stories. 

Churches are one place where many of us learned to raise our voices and give testimony to build a just society. Civic and advocacy organizations like the NAACP and Black Lives Matter are another. 

We believe that our voices are our power and that one way we can care for others is to use them to speak truth to justice.

When They See Us and 13th by Ava DuVernay are additional examples of using testimony to educate people and activate them to engage in social and political change. Both films have extended the dialogue about the need for criminal justice reform in the U.S. 

The ubiquity of the internet has created a way for many Black women (including us) to raise awareness about the successes and challenges we see in our communities and to advocate for change. More importantly, the internet provides a way for collective storytelling. The #MeToo movement started by Tarana Burke is a perfect example of the power of collective storytelling and connections to raise social awareness of issues like sexual assault and create social change.

“What gets funded gets done.”



Black women do philanthropy by giving their time, talent, and testimony to others. But we are also big financial donors! And that’s a good thing, because social change costs money and many nonprofits are barely getting by. 

In this section, we share tips on how to give your treasure, or money, wisely. 

Give regularly and give online

You can financially support nonprofits in myriad ways. You can attend an event, contribute to an advocacy campaign, host a fundraiser, or write a check. However, one of the best ways to support a nonprofit is by giving regular amounts of money every month. Some organizations call this becoming a sustaining donor for others, it’s membership. 

Regular giving is important to nonprofits so that they know exactly how much money is coming in every month. In business parlance, it helps to smooth cash flow. Unlike annual giving, which is episodic, monthly gifts make it easier to manage programs.

Another tip for helping your favorite nonprofit to save money is to give online. In addition to saving on the cost of mailings, your online donation helps to save the environment.

Join a giving circle

A great way to make your money go as far as possible (and to have some fun along the way) is to join (or start!) a giving circle. A giving circle is exactly what it sounds like—a group of folks who get together to give as a group. 

Giving circles (GCs) have exploded in recent years, especially among women. A report from the Collective Giving Research Group identified “1,087 independently run and currently active GCs, along with 525 GC chapters that are part of different GC networks and programs” in 2016. This represented a 300% increase in giving circles since 2007. The report estimated that giving circles have “given as much as $1.29 billion since inception.”

Giving circles are not new to some Black women. Black women’s organizations and sororities like The Links, Delta Sigma Theta, and Alpha Kappa Alpha have long made charitable giving a pillar of their organizational strategies. Outside of these groups, “identity-based” giving circles (groups formed around a common identity, like race, ethnicity, or gender) provide an opportunity to:

  • Build community
  • Learn about issues
  • Give strategically
  • Create more impact by pooling dollars

It’s also interesting to note that identity-based giving circles give differently, and that is good for organizations that may get overlooked by mainstream philanthropy. The chart below shows that 50% of African Americans support “causes or organizations focused on African Americans,” compared to 7% of all donors.



Valaida Fullwood, one of our Black Women to Watch in Philanthropy, started New Generation of African American Philanthropists, a giving circle in Charlotte, NC. It has been going strong for 12 years!

Ready to start your own giving circle? Check out 10 steps to starting a giving circle from United Philanthropy Forum.

Direct your capital to the communities that need it most

As we showed above, Black folks give Black. While we’re not saying that all of your giving should go to Black communities, we are encouraging you to think about directing some of your capital to the communities that need it most.

According to the Black Social Change Funders Network, “available data indicate that less than 2 percent of funding by the nation’s largest foundations is specifically targeted to the Black community.” This is crazy, since Black communities are so ripe for giving. The Black Social Change Funders Network, which is a partnership of ABFE: A Philanthropic Partnership for Black Communities and The Hill-Snowdon Foundation, has called for “at least a 25 percent increase in giving by the nation’s largest foundations to the Black community, with particular emphasis on strengthening the infrastructure of Black-led social change.” Amen!

Susan Batten Taylor, president and CEO of ABFE and one of our Black Women to Watch in Philanthropy, has said this: 

“‘Foundation redlining’ of Black-led organizations…has been an unspoken reality for decades… Available data suggests that foundation funding targeted specifically at Black communities declined during the late 1990s and through 2006. This pattern of neglect is likely worse for Black-led social change organizations, given that organizing and advocacy account for a relatively meager amount of overall giving, thus limiting institutional power to make Black communities thrive.”

Black women philanthropists (that’s you!) can help reverse disinvestment in Black communities and Black leaders by steering our giving to Black-led organizations. Those of us who work in nonprofits and philanthropy can also raise our voices and call for audits of philanthropic giving. Finally, we can provide Black-led organizations with the capacity-building support they need to build better financial, fundraising, and other systems and attract additional funding. 


“Philanthropy is different from charity. Charity focuses on eliminating the suffering caused by societal problems, like homelessness. Philanthropy asks why is there homelessness in the first place?”

The charities that Black women support are as varied as we are. From advancing education to reforming the criminal justice system to saving our democracy, Black women care about myriad social, economic, and political issues. 

The good news is that there are over 1 million registered nonprofits in the United States. That means that there is already a charitable organization (or 10!) working on whatever makes your heart sing. The bad news is that it can be difficult to determine which organizations are having the greatest impact.

Before giving money to any charitable organization or cause, we advise doing research to learn more about the issue that you care about and the nonprofit you’d like to support. Here are some questions to help:

  • What is the organization’s strategy?
  • What impact has it achieved to date? 
  • Is it financially sustainable?

You can gather this information yourself by doing a little digging. A good way to start is to peruse the nonprofit’s annual reports. Another way to learn more about any registered nonprofit in the U.S. is to review their Form 990 (the tax form that nonprofits have to file with the IRS), which you can find on Candid. You can research private foundations in the same way.

If you don’t have the time to do your due diligence, joining a giving circle can help. You can also leverage the Community Foundation in your area. Other intermediaries who rank and research nonprofits include Center for High Impact Philanthropy, Social Impact Exchange, and Democracy Alliance. Our friends at Giving Compass just launched this awesome Philanthropy Resource Guide.   

Pro tip: If you want to do philanthropy well, take some time to think about the impact that you want to have and what you feel passionate about. Dalila Wilson Scott, senior vice president of community impact for Comcast Corporation and president of Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation—and a Black Woman to Watch in Philanthropy—reminded us that giving well is work, but it shouldn’t feel like it!

Black woman to watch in philanthropy

“Because the best way to learn something new is to watch others who do it well.”

Susan Taylor Batten

President and CEO of ABFE: A Philanthropic Partnership for Black Communities


Judith Batty

National Board Member for the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. and supporter of the arts.

April Miller Boise

Senior Vice President, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary of Meritor, Inc. and Founder of 50 Black Women Over 50

Karen Boykin-Towns

Vice Chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors


Chelsea Brown

Graduate student at The University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy and logistics manager for The Young, Black & Giving Back Institute

Valaida Fullwood

Author of Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists, creator of The Soul of Philanthropy exhibit

Lisa Green Hall

Impact Chair, Apollo Global Management

Lisa Hamilton

President and CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Christal Jackson

Founder of Mosaic Genius and Head and Heart Philanthropy

Celeste James

Executive Director of Community Health at Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States

Jill Rosenberg Jones

 Co-Founder and Chairperson of the James Weldon Johnson Foundation

Ashindi Maxton

Co-Founder of the Donors of Color Project

La June Montgomery Tabron

President and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

Sherece West-Scantlebury

President and CEO of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation


“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”

Whether it’s improving public education, improving our health, advocating for civil rights, or getting folks out of jail and into the voting booth, Black women have always come together to support each other because we are philanthropic. We invest our time, talent, and treasure in service of others. We also speak out on issues that matter to us. This is something to celebrate.

We hope you leave this guide with the realization that you are a philanthropist. We also hope you’ve picked up some new ideas for giving along the way. 

Thank you for all you do to express your love of humanity. Because of you, we still have a fighting chance.