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5Qs for...Alandra Washington, Deputy Director, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

February 15, 2012

Alandra_washingtonIn January, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, with support from Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, released a report based on the work of its Cultures of Giving program, which since 2005 has supported identity-based funds that serve groups traditionally underserved by larger philanthropic institutions. Among other things, the report, Cultures of Giving: Energizing and Expanding Philanthropy by and for Communities of Color (112 pages, PDF), offers a glimpse into the strategies and lessons learned by the largest single funder of identity-based funds in the country and challenges other funders to develop new ways to collaborate with and advance identity-based philanthropy.

As the report suggests, philanthropy in the United States is becoming more diverse -- not only because there are more ways to give than ever before, but also because giving by communities of color is on the rise. And while those communities have supported leadership development and social change initiatives for decades, the growth in identity-based funds has boosted the visibility of such giving. "Communities of color are overflowing with practices of philanthropy and giving, and have been for a long time," says Alandra Washington, deputy director at the Kellogg Foundation. "But very few people in communities of color define their traditions of giving as 'philanthropy.'"

Washington, who joined the foundation in 2002 and oversees its Family Economic Security and Education and Learning programs, served for five years prior to that as CEO of the Greater East St. Louis Community Fund and before that led the New Spirit Organizing Office, also in St. Louis. PND recently spoke with her about the report.

Philanthropy News Digest: From your perspective, what has been the biggest change in philanthropy over the last twenty years?

Alandra Washington: As the report points out, how we define philanthropist and philanthropy have changed a lot over the last twenty years. Today, we're seeing members of communities that are most at-risk pool their resources to address problems in those communities. Small gifts, when combined, can be quite effective in addressing local issues. And, of course, the explosion of new technologies and platforms, things like mobile giving, has made it easier for individuals across the socioeconomic spectrum to give.

PND: How do you and your colleagues define identity-based philanthropy? What are some of the advantages of an identity-based approach for communities of color? And what are some of the challenges?

AW: At its most basic level, identity-based philanthropy is a collective investment in a community by members of that community focused on addressing problems -- across race, class, gender, or whatever else it might be -- affecting that community. One advantage of this type of giving is that it allows individuals who already are giving back to their communities to organize and pool not just their resources but also their knowledge, influence, energy, skills, and pride to build social capital.

At the same time, as with any group working to actualize social change and address specific injustices, our identity-based grantees have come up against a number of social, political, and economic challenges. Volatility in the stock market, for example, has been a challenge for identity-based funds. Even so, they have been able to work around the ongoing economic uncertainty and raise and distribute a record amount of money.

PND: Did the recession have an effect on identity-based philanthropy?

AW: The whole sector was affected by the recession. Unlike traditional donors, however, communities of color continued to give at increasing rates and levels. As the report shows, 63 percent of Latino households now make charitable donations, as do nearly two-thirds of African American households, to the tune of about $11 billion per year. While communities of color weren't immune to the economic downturn, a 2005 paper by John J. Havens and Paul G. Schervish found that aggregate charitable giving by African Americans was increasing at a faster rate than either their aggregate income or wealth. In fact, identity-based funds now raise and distribute nearly $400 million annually, which, as our report notes, is roughly the same as what a foundation with $8 billion in assets would award in grants annually.

PND: The report examines not only what worked for the Cultures of Giving program at the Kellogg Foundation, but also what didn't and why. What was the biggest surprise for you in the report? And what does the foundation hope to gain by sharing this information with the public?

AW: I was most surprised by the resiliency of these organizations and how they learned from their challenges, learned from their failures, and were willing to go back to the drawing board to figure out innovative solutions when confronted with challenges.

By sharing this information with the public, the foundation hopes to show funders and donors alike that there are resources, networks, influencers, and change strategies happening across these communities. We're hoping that others seek out and partner with identity-based groups and leverage their resources. People should walk away from the report knowing that communities of color and identity-based groups have power, influence, and resources, and that they are a great go-to partner.

PND: What advice would you give to funders looking to support identity-based funds?

AW: I would tell them to approach communities of color with a listen-and-learn attitude. It is important for them to understand that this is an emerging field and that there is a lot to learn. Yes, they should also look for ways to partner and collaborate, but first they need to learn as much as they can about the communities they are looking to fund, what's most important to them, and what their approach is to giving. Finally, I would say that funders should try to identify opportunities to leverage the human resources of these communities. All grantmakers, not just those supporting communities of color as part of their mission, should know that there's a cadre of folks in these communities who are willing, able, and ready to partner with them.

-- Regina Mahone

Comments

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Wonderful interview Alandra. Communities of color are so often talked about in the literature as "objects" of philanthropy rather than sources of philanthropy. This body of work by Kellogg Foundation and others reminds us that philanthropy comes in many forms and from many sources and can be a vehicle for empowerment when it is by the community and for the community.

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