21st Century Black Giving: 10 High Impact Principles for a New Year

A New Year has begun. But Black Philanthropy Month continues with #BPM365--a call to remember, mobilize and celebrate our giving and self-help traditions.
01/13/2015 03:13 pm ET Updated Mar 13, 2015

A New Year has begun. But Black Philanthropy Month continues with #BPM365--a call to remember, mobilize and celebrate our giving and self-help traditions. As the deaths of unarmed blacks gain prominence throughout the nation; as Ebola continues to ravage parts of Africa to the growing silence of global media; and as we attempt to save our children from Chibok to Ferguson from the ravages of a social contract gone terribly awry, the time is more urgent than ever to practice black giving at every level of our community.

We are at an unprecedented crossroads in human history--a moment that is often not taken into full account in our efforts to address the challenges facing black and other communities. In my kickoff BPM 2014-2015 blog commentary, I talked about the game-changing conditions shaping this Brave New World.

All social finance today, that is philanthropy, microfinance, social impact investing and other private funds for public good, are increasingly shaped by what I call a Butterfly Effect of Giving. The Butterfly Effect is a law of nature and physics from chaos theory discovered about 50 years ago. To explain it scientists used the example of how a distant butterfly flapping its wings could influence the formation of a hurricane weeks later in another, distant part of the world.

Aided by digital technology and global media, more than ever our natural and social systems are enmeshed in an intricate butterfly effect where an initially small change in a neighborhood, village or city can create major and unpredictable change later.

For example, in what seemed like an instant, a decline in the US housing market almost brought down the entire global economic system.

In just four years, the resulting Great Recession's butterfly effects devastated black and oyjer communities throughout the nation, taking our unemployment and poverty rates back at least 20 years and undoing the gains of the post-civil rights era for many.

These dynamics interact and coalesce to speed up the pace of social change--for good and for bad. In fact, these combined changes are so profound that the military and corporations have even coined a new word to describe the times saying that we live in as "VUCA"--more volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous than ever. The rules of the game, the basic conventional wisdoms that we use to organize our lives, including philanthropy, must change to keep up with and shape the future.

So, what does this all mean for black giving? How can we promote change for our and the broader community for a bold, new, chaotic VUCA world?

I would like to suggest an alternative approach to black philanthropy in a VUCA world based on 10 core principles.

Principle 1. Counter Afro-pessimism with the philanthropy of hope.

With all the challenges facing us, there is a kind of pessimism emerging about our community's future. In fact, there is this new term for this called "Afro-pessimism," which refers to the tendency to assume that any effort to improve or fund black issues either here in Africa, the US or worldwide is a futile waste of time, because, it is claimed, things just keep getting worse. It is really part of a racist legacy that our community sometimes internalizes on its own that can unconsciously presume that our issues and organizations are inferior or less worthy of support than others.

This negative, glass-half-empty perspective persists despite the obvious leadership, contributions, an innovations of black people throughout history, the world and the nation.

Even with our many challenges and all the fear and loathing of blackness that is still a part of the American and increasingly global experience, we should remember as noted by visionary Nigerian novelist, Ben Okri, "The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering." Black philanthropy expresses a faith in a future where hurt can be healed, hope redeemed and justice nurtured.

Especially in these days and times, this faith in giving to create a better future needs to be a basic tenet of our culture to counter the rising tide of cynicism, pessimism and apathy emerging in some corners of our community.

Principle 2: Use a Black SWOT Analysis.

Design your giving strategy to accommodate both the external and internal factors shaping our future, recognizing that change in these complex times may require a longer term view than the typical one year grant or 3 to 5 year strategic plan. Consider supporting an issue or set of organizations for a ten-year period perhaps in 3-year, renewable grant increments. Multi-year, flexible support in conditions of severe social disruption can provide the nonprofit and community infrastructure needed to produce real change.

However, the uncomfortable, internal drivers too that must be addressed--for example, the demise of our families and escalating community violence in some cases--are also arguably at least part of the reason for many of the challenges that we are facing.

An honest look at the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats facing our communities is a core principle for effective black giving in these new times.

Principle 3: Outcomes, transparency and accountability for the sake of our communities.

No matter the indicator--employment, education, health--our communities are in crisis. Being committed to black issues or having a well designed program is not enough. Our organizations must define attainable but game-changing goals that reflect our reality. Our theories and metrics of change to help move the needle on our community's issues. And we must hold our organizations accountable for high performance and integrity. Our very survival as a people is at stake.

Principle 4: Become proficient in all the tools of black giving.

From hyper-extended family giving to philanthropy and ancient giving circle traditions, black giving includes at least 8 different social structures that our communities here in the US and worldwide have used to mobilize our time, talent and treasure for joint social action. No one tool is better than another. They all have a useful purpose, place and time in strengthening the social change and civic capacity of our communities.

Principle 5. Master the new social change technologies.

Obama was essentially able to become this nation's first black president because he creatively mobiliaed young people and others of all backgrounds using social change media,y--that's Facebook, Twitter, crowdfunding, video, various mobile technologies and many other vehicles like our new online organizations, such as ColorofChange.org--that essentially allow you to influence the thinking and organize the collective action of massive numbers of people in a nanosecond, across time and space. These technologies are not a substitute for old-school, face to face organizing, but they are a critical adjunct to them in this more mobile, fast moving VUCA world.

Principle 6. Embrace the new black diversity.

The US black community giving movement focuses almost exclusively on African-Americans, that is, the "old black diaspora"--those of us, like me, who were born in the US and descended from the African slaves brought to the southern US centuries ago.

But we need to practice what we preach to others in terms of embracing the ethnic and other diversities in our own community today. It is not just the right thing to do. In the US, regardless of national origin or ethnicity, blacks face similar challenges of health disparities, police profiling and violence, and discrimination in many spheres of life.

Embracing black diversity is mutually beneficial too. It is estimated that African immigrants alone gave $11 billion to their countries of origin. This does not even include the undocumented millions or billions they also gave to causes right here in our own US communities. Black immigrant giving combined with the $12 billion in African-American philanthropy in 2011 creates an annual giving economy at least $23 billion that we could strategically use to define and address common challenges right here in America or even in black communities overseas.

Our diversity is a resource just as it is in the Latino community where despite diverse national origins, languages and races, people can unite when necessary around an invented but shared notion of identity and destiny.

Principle 7. Stand up for black gays, lesbians and sexual diversity.

Violence against gays, lesbians and transpeople in our and the broader community is rampant and unacceptable. Regardless of one's religious beliefs, it is immoral to actively promote or passively accept violence and social ostracism of law abiding adults exercising their constitutional rights of freedom of association and expression. We must stand up for people who are often doubly invisible and oppressed sometimes within our own communities because of their sexual orientation. Black philanthropy is about love of all humanity, including gays and lesbians. To learn how to support the justice movement for black sexual minorities, connect with the National Black Justice Coalition.

Principle 8. Give with a black gender lens.

This new VUCA world has specific gender outcomes. As suggested by President Obama's My Brother's Keeper and My Sister's Keeper initiatives, there is a black male crisis typified by growing levels of incarceration, stigmatizing of black maleness, low educational achievement and high unemployment. While this is a particular challenge for US black and Latino men, the transition to a digital, knowledge economy has been marginalizing young men the world over. Male unemployment rates in some African, Middle Eastern and Asian countries are more than 50% with escalating levels of undereducated youth, fueling violence and social unrest.

On the other hand, black women and women worldwide are experiencing renewed misogyny, a rollback in basic human rights, increasing domestic abuse and community violence; as well as growing levels of chronic and infectious disease.

For our families and communities to prosper in the new era, it is critical that our giving recognize that one size does not fit all. We need giving and programming that meets the gender-sensitive needs of black men and women. Black men and women are just two wings of the same bird. Both wings need to be strong for our communities to soar.

Principle 9. Engage the youth.

Youth are not only our future leaders, they bear the brunt of many of our community's worst social conditions and, in fact, as in movements of earlier eras, are often at the forefronts of social change. No matter your giving interests, try to include a youth component that not only offers them services but develops their leadership as well as encourages them to be philanthropists, giving time, talent or treasure. Youth have always been at the forefront of social change--just as they are in the increasingly multi-racial #blacklivesmatters protests. Learn from them and support their organizations. This will help build the next generation of leadership that we so desperately need to sustain our culture of giving for community change.

10. Give together for justice for all.

Ethnic-specific, giving to black community issues is necessary and appropriate. But more is needed in these complex times.

Policies such as stand your ground or the militarization of local police forces that we saw in Ferguson is detrimental to all communities. Cross-racial organizing and giving with allies of all backgrounds on a local, national and even global scale are required to impact the forces shaping our opportunities and future. This type of strategic collaboration also amplifies our voices, building the critical mass that we need to impact the injustices that disproportionally affect us.

Despite all the challenges, this is an amazing time to be black. We are living in a promising period with vast, untapped potential for our communities. Our collective giving, advocacy and innovation have been effective social change tools from the Underground Railroad, Abolition, Old and New Civil Rights, Liberation as well as Anti-Apartheid Movements. We have the opportunity and responsibility to adapt our traditions of protest, giving and change for the times, coming full circle to create a new future even greater than our past for all.

This commentary is adapted from the author's keynote speech for the Community Investment Network's 10th Anniversary Conference on October 2nd, 2014 in Durham, NC. The views expressed are the author's own and not necessarily those of organizations with which she is affiliated.