Facing the Giving Gap in Nonprofit Fundraising — From Foundations to PTAs
In May of 2020, Echoing Green and The Bridgespan Group published an article highlighting enormous budget disparities between Black and white-led nonprofit organizations seeking institutional funding in the early stages of their development. The numbers were staggering:
“For organizations focused on improving life outcomes for Black men and boys in the United States, the revenues of these organizations that are Black-led are 45% smaller than those that are white-led, and the unrestricted net assets of the Black-led organizations are a whopping 91% smaller than the white-led organizations.”
Pulling into sharp focus what it means when philanthropic funding “often represents a proxy for trust,” the report confirmed what many of us in nonprofit fundraising had experienced for years: Black-founded and led organizations face real, yet invisible barriers to accessing the same kind of sustainable funding that white-led organizations doing similar work obtain more easily. Gender plays a role, too. Bridgespan noted that Black women helming nonprofits receive even less financial support than both Black men and white women leaders.
Just a few weeks after the article was published, George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
In those summer months of 2020, it was fascinating to see how many individuals and institutions, some for the very first time, were cajoled into reckoning with their role in upholding white supremacy, as well as the racism and violence that Black communities in this country face every day. While some virtue-signaled their support for Black causes on social media or released DEI press statements, many well-intentioned folks reached for their wallets.
Donations to racial justice groups and causes increased dramatically in the months that followed, both for small neighborhood groups as well as long-established organizations. A group of bail funds received $90 million over a period of two weeks. About 62,000 people contributed $6.2 million for a neighborhood recovery campaign near where George Floyd was killed.
As a Black man freshly burned out from my years of fundraising for nonprofits, I felt relieved and grateful during this time that people were finally catching up and understanding the importance of supporting Black-led organizations. But I was also skeptical. The sudden frenzy made me feel tokenized — am I only as important as the last headline?
“Of the $11.9 billion in philanthropic capital publicly pledged in support of racial equity in 2020,” they found, “only $1.5 billion can be tracked to recipients to date.”
I can’t say I was surprised. But I did feel seen. Finally, a light was shining on the dark reality that I, and so many others, had been living with. It is one thing to live with the experience of being disenfranchised, underserved and underfunded, but it's an entirely different thing when someone provides the facts that validate your feelings.
With my anger also came a shred of hope. Because along with all of the receipts, these reports also laid out clear calls to action. For each of the four core roadblocks to capital for Black-led organizations — initial connections to funders, building rapport, securing needed financial support and sustaining relationships — the authors called on funders and grantmaking bodies to look inward and examine their particular racial biases, both personal and structural, and do the intentional work needed at each step to stop replicating the systems of oppression that their own mission statements decry.
But it’s not just institutional funding that needs a wake-up call: 80% of charitable giving each year actually comes from individuals.
This urgent need for reflection and action toward racial equity needs to permeate the larger culture of giving in America. Harm comes not only from colorblind grantmaking by donor-advised funds and corporate giving, but also from colorblindness in individual contributions, crowdfunding and peer-to-peer fundraising. As technology makes grassroots fundraising tools better and more accessible than ever, we can either pretend that there’s a level playing field, or we can acknowledge that, in our often-segregated society, it’s going to take more than good intentions and white guilt-assuaging, one-off donations if we are going to close this gap in equity.
So what can be done? For inspiration, I look to organizations like the aptly named Giving Gap (formerly Give Blck), which mobilized a million people to give $1 billion to Black-led organizations. Groups like Resource Generation and SURJ are organizing white and other privileged ally groups to redistribute wealth to Black and other marginalized communities, while others are calling into question the traditional PTA fundraising models that have deepened inequality among schools.
Nonprofit organizations with white and otherwise privileged leadership can themselves be allies in this work. Consider the ways you can be doing more to work in coalition with diverse groups in your community and larger movement, and ask yourself some key questions:
- What collaborative funding opportunities can you share?
- Where can you step back from an opportunity to let another organization step forward?
- What direct connections can you make to your institutional funders?
- What relationships can you help to foster with your board members and wealthy donors in your network?
- What fundraising or promotional work can you do in partnership with or on behalf of Black-led groups in your community?
Those of us in fundraising tech should also be devoting our time, talent and resources to closing the giving gap where we are able — from lifting up Black-led organizations in our marketing, encouraging recurring donations on our platforms and giving back to our community in a more equitable way.
For all who genuinely care about the Black community, I want you to sit and stay a while, even when supporting our people isn't sexy anymore. Yes, please give money, but also stay connected and committed for the long haul. Commit to the uncomfortable work of dismantling the structures that brought us here in the first place.
What is one step you can take toward closing the giving gap today?
Floyd Jones serves as the community and partnerships lead at Givebutter, a free fundraising platform that has powered more than $300 million in donations for millions of changemakers worldwide. Floyd supports Givebutter’s community strategy through partnerships, sponsorships, strategic campaigns and special events.