Six Years of New Generation of African American Philanthropists!

As NGAAP-Charlotte celebrated its sixth anniversary on June 6, 2012, I ask two of the giving circle’s founding members, Ms. Valaida Fullwood and Ms. Patricia Martelly, to look back on past years and reflect on collaboration, connection, and community involvement.

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NGAAP Members, April 2010

Q: What prompted you to create and develop NGAAP-Charlotte?

VF: I was introduced to CIN about eight years ago when I attended a talk by CIN’s founder, Darryl Lester. Lester talked about philanthropy, specifically the traditions of giving in black communities, which is often overlooked. I was intrigued by their work and what was going on in Birmingham. I then became involved in a collective giving group for around nine months. The members and the participants of that group pooled their funds and made a grant at the end of the year, and I just thought that was the best experience ever. Even though I had worked in philanthropy as a writer, and a project manager, that experience provided such insight. So I thought, why don’t I branch out?

I was eventually part of an organizing committee for a giving circle here in Charlotte. The first gathering was exactly six years ago (June 6, 2006). We brought people together to talk about giving back, and their personal philanthropic efforts, and asked whether they would want to do more, and so on. And that conversation resonated with folks. So, we continued to meet, until a core, or a nucleus formed of people who were really committed to collective giving. There were 17 of us, and after around 18 months, we had formally established a giving circle. We formed in ways that catered to members, and we built it from scratch, which was really important to me. Our giving circle wasn’t institutional driven; it did not sprout from our community foundation. They were supportive, but the giving circle was our thing. And so, that was the genesis of New Generation of African American Philanthropists, or NGAAP-Charlotte!

PM: Philanthropy and giving back is just something that is engrained in me; it is something that is in my blood. And when I met this group of people, I could honestly genuinely see that this was a diverse group of people, with different backgrounds and experiences, but that had one common goal, and it was to give back to the community. And I just loved the concept of African Americans coming together and saying, ‘I may not necessarily have a lot, but what I do have, I’m going to find a way to give it back to my people.’

I have worked in the nonprofit arena for some time, and I will often hear coworkers or others in the field say that they are against organizations that cater to a certain ethnic or racial group. But, I don’t necessarily agree with that criticism. If you know there are barriers or struggles affecting a group of people, why would you not do something to help? I know and understand the need for this work. I know that there are so many services people need, but they cannot get it, so I love being able to be a part of this organization that is doing something positive in my community.

Q: What do you attribute NGAAP-Charlotte’s longevity to?

PM: The people, and the process. We really do have the perfect combination of people. And without the people, there would obviously not be any NGAAP. But also, the process we followed in developing NGAAP. When we started forming NGAAP we put a whole lot of time into planning. I can remember in the beginning thinking, ‘ok, when are we actually going to give people money? I can’t wait to actually hand someone a check!’ But, I look back now, and it was worth every bit of time.

We initially broke up into research groups, and each group had different projects to work on (i.e. creating a mission statement, creating a vision, etc.). But, we broke it up into little pieces, so that people wouldn’t feel overwhelmed, and we talked about the projects along the way. We started with the outer appearance of the circle. We wanted consistency so that people would remember us. Then we talked about our collective values, our mission, and our vision. We then talked about membership, and what would be expected of members. And we finally talked about grantmaking and whether volunteerism would be a part of what we do. Taking all of that time created a clear understanding of what was going on, so we were all on the same page. The process was so detailed that we really didn’t have a whole lot of questions along the way. Once we got it all setup, then it was just a matter of doing it. And when I say we spent a lot of time planning, I think it was two years before we started our first grant cycle. But again, I think putting the time in upfront was the best thing we could have done.

Q: What has NGAAP-Charlotte been up to these past six years?

VF: Well, what I found early on is that the word ‘philanthropy’ doesn’t necessary resonate in my community. So, I began to wonder, how might we overcome that? And so, then this idea of creating a collection of stories and artful photography of traditions of black giving came to be an approach of addressing this disconnect. I have seen a lot of the academic papers on black philanthropy, but had never seen anything created for consumption by and for the general public, and everyday people. So, I set out to create the book Giving Back, which was a way to break it down and show visually what a lot of those academic papers were saying, so that people could thumb through, see our long traditions of giving, relate, and be inspired.

And so, by partnering with NGAAP, we were able to raise funds to underwrite the costs of the book, and we launched it as a collaboration between me and the giving circle, and then proceeds from the book go back to the giving circle. When I started, I thought it would take nine months to a year to complete, and in the end it was nearly five years to produce the book! So, it was a lot bigger endeavor than originally imagined, but the book is exactly as I envisioned five years ago.

NGAAP’s current focus is Giving Back. NGAAP’s mission was not only to make grants, but also to educate more of our peers about philanthropy. And we find that the book is important, but even more so the conversation that the book sparks. The book truly is opening doors to conversations about community led programs, so that’s been exciting.

The book also influences our grantmaking abilities. The more books sold, the more revenue we have for grantmaking. Our hope is that through this revenue we will be in a better position to make strategic and thoughtful grantmaking decisions. NGAAP’s funding priorities focus on education, health, economic and social justice, and civic and legal justice.

How to apply: NGAAP-Charlotte offers two windows each year for new members to join. 2012 membership opportunities are available May through July and October through December.

Prospective members may download a 2012 pledge form by following this link: http://www.fftc.org/page.aspx?pid=923

For more information: Contact Valaida Fullwood at valaida@vnet.net.

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