Cedric Brown is a managing partner of the Kapor Center for Social Impact, which mobilizes tech for positive, progressive change.
He is a former board chair of Bay Area Blacks in Philanthropy and a 2007 Connecting Leaders Fellow of the Association of Black Foundation Executives. Cedric lives in Oakland, CA.
This Black Philanthropy Month, I want to talk about cash. Yes, I believe in the power of contributed time and talent, but I have separate soapboxes for those. Right now I want to talk about our personal power as philanthropists. I know that label conjures images of stone libraries and big checks presented at ribbon cutting ceremonies, and hey, if you got it like that, do your thing! But for the rest of us 99%ers, I’m focusing on the power of our small dollars to add up to bigger action.
Firstly, my soapbox is built on a 20 year career in “organized philanthropy” – working for the institutions with big benefactors and bigger dollars that make five and six figure grants. From that vantage point I know that there are thousands of community-based organizations doing great work across a range of issues, and they need our help! I can say for a fact that generating a few dollars can go a long way, especially when leveraged by the deep concern, commitment, and charisma of competent leaders. We have ample proof, most visibly through the power of the Obama presidential campaigns, that small dollars do make a difference with an overall goal. And new crowdfunding platforms like IndieGogo and Kickstarter have made that kind of concentrated incremental fundraising much more accessible to folks with good ideas but a lack of capital.
For a fellowship project I worked on a number of years ago, I conducted a series of interviews to gauge personal giving patterns. These were done with black men with good jobs, political awareness, and solid values. I was shocked to find that out of the ten I spoke with, only two had given much thought to making charitable/strategic donations. I was so surprised and disappointed that I abandoned the project, not wanting to write up what I thought was an embarrassing result. Unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to use those results and that disappointment as a springboard into action, recognizing that sometimes people need to be asked and inspired to give.
So here’s my inspiration: The Five Minute Philanthropy Plan! All you need is a timer, pencil, and paper (or type away if that’s more suitable!). Ready?
- 00:00 – 01:00 | In the first minute, write down all of the social/political issues that you care about (or more bluntly put, list all of the changes you’d like to see in the world). Pencils ready! Don’t get overwhelmed or mad at the issues, just write (and try to be specific).
- 01:01 – 02:00 | List of all of the black community-serving institutions that you know, both nationally and in your local community. I’m focusing on black-community serving orgs because this is Black Philanthropy Month and our orgs need our support*, but it’s your list, so write what moves you.
- 02:01 – 03:00 | Compare the two lists. Do any issues line up with orgs you know? In either case, prepare to do more research – outside of this challenge – on the best one(s) to focus on. I’m not asking the world of you, just for some action!
- 03:01 – 03:30 | In THIRTY seconds, write down a number that you think is a reasonably-sized donation that you could make on a monthly basis. DO NOT freak out and start thinking about rent and food; I mean reasonable for your budget.
- 03:31 – 04:30 | Over the next minute, list all of the people you could possibly ask to make a ONE-TIME donation of that “reasonably-sized donation” to a cause of your choice. Your Facebook or Twitter communities are excellent resources (provide that you’re connected like that).
- 04:31 – 05:00 | Look back at the basic plan that you have devised in just five easy minutes! And not only could this serve as a framework for your own philanthropic priority-setting, you’ll also be leveraging your dollars with those donations in your networks.
As an extra challenge, how much could you raise for a cause or organization in 24 hours? Last year I asked 19 people to give $50 each; together we raised $1,000 in the course of a workday! And that was on a whim, so I know y’all can do better than that now that you have your Five Minute Philanthropy Plan!
Now you know how Luther said:
a house is not a home when there’s no one there?
Well similarly, a plan is just a list without YOU to put it into action! Our good friends and sponsors of Black Philanthropy Month have made it easy to get involved. Once you get started, may you quickly find the joy that comes from contributing to a greater good through word and deed.
* “With public funding cuts, minority-led nonprofits face the additional challenge of serving a population that has fewer financial resources to contribute to organizations that serve them…Moreover, recent studies show that foundation grantmaking for ethnic minorities is low and is not growing at the same rate as overall giving.” The Network Journal, August 2008