Redefining Philanthropy: How African-Americans Give Back
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. This is the time of year when there's a lot of talk about making and keeping promises to ourselves and to others. In a few minutes, we'll meet a young man who's taken that idea to a new level through his nonprofit called Because I Said I Would. That's coming up later. But first, we want to take a fresh look at a promise that many of us make during the holiday season - to give money to charity. According to Charity Navigator, individual Americans gave more than $200 billion to nonprofit organizations and charities in 2012.
But if you think about where African-Americans fit into that picture, you might be thinking they are more on the receiving end than on the giving end. But according to a new study, if you think that, you would be wrong. A 2012 study from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation reported that blacks actually donated a higher percentage of their incomes to charity than any other ethnic group in this country. But they don't necessarily think of themselves as philanthropists, as others do. We wondered about the implications of that pattern of giving, so we've called Tracey Webb. She's the founder of the blog BlackGivesBack, and she's with us now. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us, and happy holidays to you.
TRACEY WEBB: Happy holidays. Thank you so much for having me.
MARTIN: Where do you think this perception came from, that African-Americans are not big givers?
WEBB: I think that our stories of giving really haven't been told, and that's the main reason why I created my blog BlackGivesBack. My main purpose is to highlight the big, bold givers and also our grassroots givers - everyday givers in our communities. And it's just really interesting, even seven years later, that I'm still finding out about prominent black philanthropists that we didn't even know about.
MARTIN: Is it that African-Americans giving patterns differ from those of other groups? Are they more likely to give casually, for example, or anonymously? Or do they give to organizations or - that don't necessarily show up on these big studies?
WEBB: Definitely, it's a combination of all three. But it goes back to how philanthropy has historically been defined, which is, you know, associated with wealthy.
MARTIN: Wealthy individuals.
WEBB: Yeah, with wealthy individuals. But African-Americans, we give up our time and talent as well. We may not give in larger amounts and maybe smaller amounts, but we really haven't considered ourselves as philanthropists because of those images.
MARTIN: When you talk about philanthropy, are you talking about giving to organizations outside of the family? Because there - we also know that African-Americans - also Latinos...
MARTIN: ...Are also more likely to be supporting family members beyond their immediate family. Is that part of the picture, too?
WEBB: Oh, definitely. In the African-American community, we all - you know, we definitely give back to our families. So definitely, there is a connection. There's always a connection there.
MARTIN: What is the importance, in your mind, of defining philanthropy differently to capture this kind of giving?
WEBB: I think it's just very important because in the African-American community, collective giving is, you know - we've been doing that since the 18th century. And somewhere along the line, philanthropy, the definition changed. And I really just wanted our community to know that we are givers. And really, I just grew tired of not seeing our giving in the media. And hopefully, by highlighting donors and what people are doing in their communities, they can say, I am a philanthropist. I do that. Or it can encourage them to give more, and it can also encourage people who do not give to give.
MARTIN: And when you talk about giving, you mean collecting money in an envelope for somebody whose family member has passed away and is short of cash. Or do you mean large gifts? Are there in fact African-Americans giving large cash gifts to recognized charitable institutions who are not getting recognition for that?
WEBB: Yes. From small gifts to collection plates in the church - or collecting together to help, you know, send a neighbor through college - and also those large transformational gifts. There are a lot of African-Americans that give a million dollars and more to organizations that aren't told.
MARTIN: Can you give us an example of the kind of giving you're talking about that you think should be better reflected in the media? I mean, everybody knows about Oprah, I would say. But are there other givers that you think people should know more about?
WEBB: A couple that come to mind are Bernard and Shirley Kinsey of The Kinsey Collection. They have amassed a collection of historical artifacts from African-American history. Currently, it's being hosted by Wells Fargo, and it's traveling around the country. They've also raised millions of dollars for HBCUs and also their alma mater, which is FAMU. And also, Eddie and Sylvia Brown of Baltimore. They granted $6 million for Maryland College of Art in Baltimore. So I think those two stories, like, really just stick out to me that readers, they may not know about.
MARTIN: What about this whole idea of, like, the putting the money in the envelope for somebody who is in need? Like, you find out that a colleague is - a spouse or parent has passed away, and there's kind of an immediate need and people sort of sticking, you know - they go around, and there's always somebody in an office who's going to go around with the envelope. And you're saying often as not that that person is African-American. How do you want that to be seen?
WEBB: I want that to be seen as philanthropy also - trying to shift the image and just thinking about philanthropy just for the wealthy and the elite. I want people to know that philanthropy is giving of your time, talent and treasure, whether you have $20 or $20,000 or $20 million - that that's a form of philanthropy, and it's a form of giving back.
MARTIN: Why does ethnicity matter in something like this?
WEBB: We're seen as recipients of philanthropy and not always the givers. And I just wanted to help to change that narrative. I think that's very important.
MARTIN: Is it part of it, though, that the bulk of the giving goes to specific institutions within the African-American world, like neighborhood churches and things like that? So if that's the case, what's wrong with that?
WEBB: There's nothing wrong with that. A lot of churches are social service providers. So they're giving to their church. They're tithing, and also they're supporting the church to be able to give back to the community. A lot of churches have food pantries, clothing pantries. So that support's critical as well.
MARTIN: Is there something you would like to see done differently?
WEBB: I would say that I would love for more donors to share their stories. It's very interesting that in the seven years that I've been blogging, I've met a lot of people who are reluctant to share their story of giving. And that - it perplexed me for a long time.
MARTIN: Well, why do you think that is?
WEBB: Well, I've responses from, well, it's biblical, and you know, you're not supposed - you're supposed to be humble about your giving, and you're not supposed to share about it. But I want to change that because I really believe that when you share your stories of giving, it can inspire others.
MARTIN: What's the target of your giving?
WEBB: I'm a little biased here because I have my own charity which is a giving circle called The Black Benefactors. So the majority of my resources, I put into my giving circle -
MARTIN: And what does it do?
WEBB: So we're a group of individuals, and we pool our money. And we decide together where to give our monies and time away. But I'm also very, very - my number one issue area is education.
MARTIN: Tracey Webb, the founder of The Black Benefactor and BlackGivesBack. And she joined us here in Washington, D.C. Tracey Webb, thank you so much for joining us, and happy New Year to you.
WEBB: Thank you for having me, and happy New Year to you.