The Giving Black Experiment: Part 1

A couple of weeks ago my friend David and I approached a few people to participate in an experiment based on some thoughts I was having about philanthropy, black wealth, and economic empowerment within black communities.

The experiment (as described to my friends): For one week, we’re going to round up our spare change from debit/credit card purchases to the nearest dollar. For example, if I chose to round up to the nearest dollar and made a purchase that cost $4.67, $0.33 would go towards my donation. (The easiest way to do this is to just not think about it and then at the end of the week go through your account and add it up.) You’ll take the sum of that spare change and give it to the nonprofit of your choosing with one stipulation: the nonprofit has to focus on the black community in some way. At the end of the week after you’ve donated, you’ll fill out a survey and I’ll report the results.

A few notes before diving into how this turned out as well as additional commentary to give context to the results:

  • The small number of people who participated doesn’t create a solidly reliable set of data, but this is insightful nonetheless, and I promised them I would report the results.
  • “Focusing on the black community in some way” was left up to interpretation by those who participated.
  • Giving for a lot of people isn’t an easy thing to do, but the people who participated are really appreciated for taking the time, and hopefully this leads to an easier path forward to find and donate to nonprofits that don’t receive as much attention but are doing really amazing work.

Let’s dive in to it!

A diverse set of people were asked to participate in the experiment: 13 males and 11 females ultimately filled out the survey. 10 of them identified as Black, 9 as White, 2 as Asian, 1 as Indian, 1 as Hispanic, and 1 as Latino.

Who defines what a philanthropist is and isn’t? Sure, the Warren Buffet’s and Bill Gate’s are philanthropists, but why not the people like those who give in small ways throughout their lives.

According to a study done in 2012 by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, black donors give away 25% more of their incomes than white donors. However, black donors are disproportionately overlooked in fundraising efforts:

The data suggests that many African-American donors have been left out of mainstream fundraising efforts. Giving via core fundraising channels — direct mail, email, etc. — falls well below the overall average. African-American donors say they are asked to give less often and say they would give more if only they were asked …. 20% of African American donors say they would support more nonprofits if they were asked more often, compared with 9% of all donors.

More from the report on how religion factors into giving:

Religion and faith are both drivers and indicators of giving. Religious organizations capture a significant proportion of all money donated. Moreover, donors who report being actively engaged in a faith community are more likely to give — and to give more — to the full spectrum of nonprofits and causes.
Religion dominates African-American donors’ giving priorities. Half of this group says they donate to their place of worship more than any other nonprofit category. In addition, 75 percent of these donors say giving to their place of worship is important, far more than other donor groups. African-American donors say they give an average of 13 percent of their income to their place of worship, compared with 9 percent of donors overall.

In the experiment, black participants were the majority who had given money to a religious organization in the past year; only 1 of the 12 who said they had not given any money to a religious organization was black. Much has been said about the amount of money black churches have been given in the past 30+ years and how the church decides to spend the money; estimates as much as $420 billion. It’s no secret that the black church continues to play an influential role in the fight for civil rights and in cultivating charitable movements for their communities. That being said, most churches lack the resources and expertise to offer sustainable solutions to some of the largest problems plaguing black communities: mass incarceration, poverty, police brutality, lackluster education, high unemployment. Black people are disproportionately affected by all of these issues. Finding models that are working and pouring resources into them will be crucial to continue tackling these challenges.

It goes without saying that the more you spend, the more spare change you have, and people have been figuring out what to do with all of their coins since forever. Donating that money isn’t a novel idea. Asking for donations at checkout counters is commonplace, and there are a number of apps that exist to help you either make micro-investments with that change or micro-donations to charities.

The key here is making these new technologies more inclusive for communities outside of the typical donor base. Black spending power is expected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020. As black affluence continues to increase, technology can help in being an equalizer for reaching black donors, who more than any other group are interested in giving to organizations that support their heritage and community.

Finding effective nonprofits to donate too is tough. Finding black nonprofits outside of the NAACP, SPLC, and National Urban League is really really tough! Throughout the week I was approached by a number of people asking where they should give their money, either because they didn’t have a lot of time to do lots of research, or because they didn’t have a good idea of where to find black nonprofits to give their money.

Charity Navigator lumps everything into very broad topics, for example 342 charities are listed under Human and Civil Rights. GuideStar does the same and allows you to search if you know what you’re looking for, but it’s still very ineffective. On the site CharityWatch there are only five organizations listed in the African American category, with similar numbers for Asian and Hispanic focused organizations; there are 44 organizations listed for animal protection organizations. I have to believe that beyond the black church and the few black organizations taught to us throughout middle and high school, there are a number of effective local and national organizations working to empower black communities. Again, we should work on making it easier to find and support these organizations.

The goal coming out of this experiment was two-fold: can we focus more attention on nonprofits working to uplift black communities, as well as give people an easy model for giving that’s embedded in actions they take on a daily basis? The answer is a resounding PERHAPS. We’re going to keep working on it.

With 100 people we could give $1,000 or more to nonprofits across America focused on black empowerment just by rounding for a week. So in January, that’s the new goal.

If you’re interested in being a part of the second group of givers, just shoot me an email, reach out on Facebook, or comment below. AND invite some of your friends to do the same if you think they’d be interested.

ALSO, if you’re aware of any really amazing nonprofits that are doing work for black communities please let me know!

Just a little giving can make a big impact if we can mobilize others to do the same.