Donor Focus: African Americans
African Americans currently make up 13 percent of the population, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. In 1990, the bureau charted the African-American community to grow by 68 percent before 2030. But despite this growing demographic — currently 38.3 million individuals representing a buying power of $631 billion — many majority nonprofit organizations have only recently begun focusing efforts on soliciting support from the black community.
“African-American donors used to be ignored by virtually all fundraisers,” says Dr. Emmett Carson, president and CEO of The Minneapolis Foundation, a philanthropic center for Minnesota, and author of “A Hand Up: Black Philanthropy and Self-Help in America.” “There has been this view by mainstream organizations that the African-African community consists of people who receive charity, rather than people who give charity. The recent breakthrough for many organizations was, ‘Wow, African Americans give.’ “
Today, more than ever, when the need for contributions is higher and revenue sources are shrinking, the African-American donor is a far more influential individual on the fundraising landscape.
“[This] much-touted demographic change has made some nonprofit organizations sit back on their heels and say, ‘We don’t know these people. We have to get to know these people so we can raise money from them,’ “ says Alice Green Burnette, principal of Advancement Solutions in Palm Coast, FL, and a fundraising veteran since 1964. In the late 1990s, Burnette compiled “The Privilege to Ask,” a qualitative national report on how African Americans view philanthropy and fundraising in the United States. What Burnette discovered is that fundraisers must overcome the skepticism and discomfort felt by many black potential donors.
“African-American people, in my history and my life, have been excluded from participation in society,” Burnette says. “What we did as a community was form a parallel social, educational and cultural structure.”