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Teaming Up: Black Benefactors & The Catalogue

By Tracey Webb, Founder, The Black Benefactors

During a recent convening in Washington, DC that focused on issues impacting the black community, a panelist stated, “Black people are more philanthropic than other communities, but we’re not strategically philanthropic.” After reading that comment on Twitter, I thought back to the many conversations I’ve had with my peers who echo the same sentiment. As the founder of The Black Benefactors, a giving circle that provides grants and support to nonprofits that serve the African American community in the DC region, I hope that my giving circle will address this issue, and to date, we have.

How we give back is simple: Members pool our monies and time, and then we decide collectively where to give them away. Since 2007, we’ve granted $11,500 to six organizations that provide mentoring, youth development, college readiness and the arts. Research has shown that members of giving circles give more, give more strategically, and are more engaged in their communities. Specifically, research found that giving circle members are more likely to conduct research to help decide which nonprofit to support, support general operating expenses in addition to or instead of specific programs, check organizational performance data, take into consideration cultural differences and race, class and/or gender when making funding decisions, and make multi-year gifts. These are all hallmarks of strategic giving, and we incorporate these practices into our own grantmaking. So how does the Catalogue for Philanthropy fit in to this?

During our most recent grantmaking cycle for Black History Month, we decided to use a new resource to help us identify a grantee: the Catalogue. The resource wasn’t new to me, as I’d been reading it for several years. I have always looked forward to receiving the Catalogue in the mail and learning about the many smaller nonprofits in our region that do great work (often with less). And I especially like the wish list that accompanies each nonprofit listing. This is something that I can afford.

As our Black History Month grants were $1,000 and under, using the Catalogue’s wish list was the perfect fit. Our giving circle selected three organizations from the Catalogue, and our members voted on one to receive a $500 grant: the DC Students Construction Trades Foundation. After we informed our newest grantee, we received a wonderful thank you letter and an invitation to attend an upcoming event. This was the beginning of building a new relationship with an organization that we otherwise wouldn’t have identified on our own.

A few weeks later, along with a fellow giving circle member, Thelma Jones, I met with Barbara Harman, the Catalogue’s founder and president, and we learned more about her vision for creating this wonderful resource. When we asked how our giving circle could support her efforts, she mentioned that she would like to increase the number of African American donors that use the Catalogue. Considering that most of the organizations featured in the Catalogue serve underrepresented and lower income communities — which significantly includes the African American community — this is very important.

And the Catalogue will be an important resource for us, as one of our goals is to increase member education on strategic giving. Our members will be invited to join the Catalogue’s review committee, and then share with the entire membership their experience and lessons learned. I look forward to our partnership and we’re eager to help support efforts to increase awareness of the Catalogue among African Americans. Be sure to check out my next post on how we’ll do exactly that!

Come back to GoodWorks next week for the second installment in this two-part series.

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