Valaida Fullwood, is a founding member of Charlotte’s New Generation of African American Philanthropists giving circle as well as a member of the CIN board since 2009. Yet, she is becoming most recognizable as the author of Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists. In late December, Valaida answered the following questions, from Chad Jones.
CJ: What have been three highlights of 2012?
VF: It seems 2012 was overflowing with remarkable experiences. If I must choose only three, the ones that stand out at this moment are:
- Co-presenting with Charles Thomas, photographer of Giving Back, at a book talk hosted by the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. It was one of our first and largest book events.
- Participating as a featured speaker at the Bay Area Blacks in Philanthropy State of the
Race Conference in San Francisco, where I was introduced by Dr. Emmett Carson, CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation and an international leader in the field of philanthropy.
- Learning that Giving Back won the 2012 McAdam Book Award as “the best new book for the nonprofit sector.” I feel forever indebted to the Alliance for Nonprofit Management for acknowledging the work we poured into our book and its potential uses as a tool to educate, enlighten and engage nonprofit organizations and the public, in general.
CJ: I have heard you mention Absalom Jones repeatedly when you talk about the long history of philanthropy in black communities. What is it about Absalom that catches your eye?
VF: Yeah, I must confess a “history crush” on both Absalom Jones and Richard Allen who were co-founders of the Free African Society, an early mutual aid society. I admire their vision and courage. They triumphed over slavery and their lifetime of accomplishments speaks volumes about how brilliant, charismatic, tenacious, self-determined and generous they were.
Accounts of Jones and Allen during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 and as founders of independent black churches are inspiring. While they have yet to receive the recognition they deserve, I acknowledge these men as significant framers of American philanthropy.
CJ: You have already run two printings of Giving Back. When can we anticipate a third version?
VF: Giving Back resonates with readers and it is often given as a gift. Many of our book buyers have purchased it in bulk, ordering 25 to 50 copies at a time to give away to board members, congregants, youth and others. We’re grateful our collection of stories about black philanthropy and tributes to African American givers has such appeal.
A third printing by spring 2013 would be amazing, particularly since Giving Back is an independently published book without benefit of a conventional publishing powerhouse to market and promote it.
I’ve read that the average U.S. book sells only about 250 copies a year and fewer than 3,000 copies over its lifetime. A third printing in less than two years would place Giving Back in the upper echelons, in terms of book sales.
CJ: Explain the finances of publishing a book — how much does each book cost? How long does it take to get the printed copies?
VF: That’s complicated. The publishing industry in the midst of a transformation, and thus options for getting a book published are constantly changing. Beyond writing and printing a book, it is vital to think big picture by factoring in the time and expense of marketing, selling and distributing the publication as well.
I learned early on in my book writing experience that there are two main paths to getting a book published. There is the path of a commercial publishing contract with a publisher and then there’s the path of independent publishing that offers authors an increasingly wide range of options.
With Giving Back, we took the independent publishing route. Over a four-year period, sponsors, donors and New Generation of African American Philanthropists contributed roughly $100,000 to develop and publish the book. If Giving Back were not a philanthropic endeavor, its list price would likely be double the current price. Altruism defines the book, so it was important to us to keep it affordable and thereby accessible to a wide array of people.
After completing the manuscript, we were keen to produce a meticulously edited book of high aesthetic quality. Intense sums up that process, which took about seven months.
CJ: Tell one extraordinary story of who has bought books?
VF: It feels like heaven when I learn that anyone has bought the book. This entire experience has amazed me. I relish stories from readers about how they heard about Giving Back and why they bought it and how it affected them.
One woman, who attended a book talk a year ago, recently shared what the themes and stories of Giving Back mean to her. She told me that she keeps the book displayed on a stand in her office. And because she works in the philanthropic field, she and her colleagues frequently say, “where’s the book” or “go get the book” when they what to refer to it for inspiration or quotes.
She also recounted how she landed her current job after carrying Giving Back to her job interview. During the interview, she spoke about why the book’s content and themes are important to community building and philanthropy. And since she is not of African descent, her story illustrates how Giving Back strikes chords that transcend race and resonate broadly.
CJ: Your mother has attended multiple book events, and your ancestors are often mentioned in your book talks. What has your family had to say about the reception you have received since releasing Giving Back?
VF: After enduring almost five years of my singular obsession, my family is just relieved it’s finally published. (Laughter)
In all seriousness, my family is as thrilled as I am. My parents have been unbelievably supportive and so has my sister Diatra. The same is true of my dearest friends. I couldn’t have created the book without them and the rewards wouldn’t be as sweet without being able to share them with family and friends.
Yes, my mother enjoys joining me on book-related trips. She knows book events require a lot of organizing and attention to details, so she likes to help me out. Plus, she loves traveling nearly as much as I do.
CJ: What are you reading these days?
VF: What! Are you kidding me? I’m barely able to read my emails.
CJ: What are two experiences that have fundamentally changed your life or altered who you are?
VF: Being an exchange student to La Paz, Bolivia at 17 years old was the defining experience of my life. I had always been fascinated with languages and longed to travel. My first trip out of the U.S. changed everything.
Coming from a small town in the western hills of North Carolina, nearly everything in La Paz was different from what I’d ever known. Living in one of the world’s poorest countries. Navigating a bustling capital city. Residing with a divorced, single mom with four children … five counting me. Learning to speak Spanish. Attending a German-language school.
The experience flung open my mind, led me to major in International Studies with a focus on developing economies, ushered me into jobs in the global arena, and set my wanderlust aflame.
The second experience occurred about 16 years ago when a seasoned writer, whose work I admired, told me that I was an exceptional writer with a distinctive voice.
CJ: Give us a glimpse into what is in store for you in 2013?
VF: I only wish I had a crystal ball to see what 2013 holds for me.
If I could conjure up a spectacular year, it would include a steady stream of speaking engagements around the globe; a series of jobs that allow me to write about interesting topics and people; new experiences to stretch and polish my skills; and opportunities to expand the Giving Back Project in ways that realize the vision of New Generation of African American Philanthropists.