Chances are, you’re a philanthropist

Do you consider yourself a philanthropist?

For too long, in many minds “philanthropist” has been limited to a select few: the super wealthy, male and white.

In truth, people of all incomes, people of color, and women have always given back to and invested in their communities. In 2011, Dr. Jackie Copeland-Carson and the Pan-African Women’s Philanthropy Network created Black Philanthropy Month — celebrated in August — to uplift giving by Black women and men, not as “new or emerging” donors, but as a community with a powerful history of philanthropy.

For example, in the early 20th century Madame C. J. Walker, the first self-made African American woman millionaire thanks to her beauty empire, was giving to black colleges, homes for orphans and the elderly, and supporting the NAACP’s work to end lynching.

Philanthropy is not limited to millionaires. Nearly two-thirds of African American households give to charitable causes, for a total of $11 billion each year, and donate approximately 25 percent more of their income a year compared to white households, according to research by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

In addition to individual giving, Black women have been coming together in giving groups and circles to jointly invest in their communities. The African American Women’s Leadership Council at Chicago Foundation for Women was created in 1998 to build the leadership of Black women as philanthropists, and in 2013, became part of the Women United Giving Council for women of color. Since 2007, the council has supported $85,600 in grantmaking through CFW.

Black women continue to come together to find new ways to invest in their communities. The new South Side Giving Circle at CFW, created by six Black women, will focus its investments on Black women and girls on Chicago’s South Side and South Suburbs.

But philanthropy is more than just financial. Philanthropy is any active effort to promote the welfare of humanity — literally, “love of mankind” (clearly, Chicago Foundation for Women has taken some creative license here). If you are taking care of loved ones, giving at your house of worship, watching out for children in your neighborhood or volunteering your time — you are giving to your community. You are a philanthropist.

The philanthropic sector is getting better at recognizing the many diverse ways people invest in their communities. But broadly, we still struggle to adequately engage African Americans and communities of color, who remain underrepresented as leaders, stakeholders and donors.

To more effectively engage communities of color in developing funding priorities and directing investments in communities of color, CFW is conducting research to better understand the interests, needs and motivations of giving by and within communities of color. This research will examine how, why and in what ways people of color are currently investing in their communities.

You can support this research by taking a short, 15 minute survey here.