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Happy Black Philanthropy Month, Houston!

Happy Black Philanthropy Month, Houston!


August is Black Philanthropy Month. During the entire month Black givers and allies highlight the power of giving to change communities. In light of the national spotlight on race, police brutality and poverty this is a pivotal moment for philanthropy to effect change.

About three years ago my career in the nonprofit sector lead me to a job in philanthropy. This basically means I went from writing grants to actually being the person who helps give the money away. Kind of sweet, right?

I quickly learned that Houston is very philanthropic. Folks here give to lots of nonprofits doing good work. My day job led to an intense interest in better understanding philanthropy from the perspective of Black people.

Necole Irvin, a good friend was also reflecting on similar questions. As transplants to the city Necole and I would meet for wine and spend hours talking about patterns we observed in our work within the local nonprofit community. We were distressed that in the most diverse city of the United States, Black children and families in Houston are out-performed by all other ethnic groups, regardless of class. We saw firsthand that many of the small nonprofits serving Black communities in Houston are under-resourced. The larger, more established organizations lacked diversity among leadership and board governance. We wondered if donors, especially Black donors, were also thinking about these things.

“Nearly two-thirds of African American households donate to organizations and causes, to the tune of $11 billion each year.” Cultures of Giving, 2012

Let’s be clear, Black people don’t just spend money, they give it too! Still, we must consider if that giving translates to improvements in Black communities in Houston. Why and how do organizations serving Black communities struggle in a place with a strong high resource Black community? Where do the charitable dollars given by Blacks go? How are these dollars used?   Are the ways Blacks in Houston give similar to other cities? How do Black Houstonians develop their giving strategy?   These are some of the questions we explore.

What began as informal conversations evolved into nine months of dialogue with native Houstonians. We set out to talk to a diverse group of Blacks Houstonians in an attempt to see how they define philanthropy and what it looks like to and for them. By the end of 2014 we had a plan to continue the conversation around Black philanthropy in different way.

This year we have hosted two small, intimate dinner dialogues. Conversations confirmed several types of giving common among Black’s in Houston:

  • financially supporting family;
  • giving to friends and family who are entrepreneurs;
  • tithes and offerings to faith-based institutions;
  • donations to fraternity/sorority and alumni groups;
  • workplace matching programs;
  • service and volunteerism;
  • giving to political campaigns;
  • and hosting/participating in galas and other fundraisers.

There was consensus that giving ‘to what end’ is something we all need to take the time to think about. A vibrant Houston was a common theme and understanding how our philanthropy contributes is vital.

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The first event ended with a resounding affirmation that Kelli and Necole should move forward with their learning about Black philanthropy in Houston. We spent the early part of the summer thinking about what our next steps should be. That was before Sandra Bland, Charnesia Corley, and other cases reminded us that while giving to help people is good, giving to improve systems is critical.

So in this month, join us in sharing how your giving is benefitting Black families in Houston.