The Changing Face of Philanthropy
Where the color line yields to the bottom line
ATLANTA — Just before the winter holiday break, a group of 70 Black professionals gathered here at the Georgia Institute of Technology for a reception. They nibbled hors d’oeuvres and traded business cards as a jazz group played in the background. Even after the evening’s main attraction — a speech by Coca-Cola Co.’s Michael Bivins, education director of the soft-drink company’s foundation — people didn’t bolt for the door.
This wasn’t your average reception.
It was a sort of a coming-out party for Georgia Tech’s first Black development directors — Birgit Smith Burton, director of foundation relations, and James S. Simmons, director of corporate relations.
But it was also the first time Black professionals in development at Atlanta universities had gathered.
“A lot of people still think Georgia Tech is a White, male institution,” says Smith Burton. “But the face of Georgia Tech is changing. We’re the first African Americans at this level in institutional advancement. Blacks are becoming directors and it’s making a statement. We’re having more opportunity and proving our skills and talents.”
But although many applaud their appointments, Black professionals say this scene is not likely to be repeated on too many college campuses. Although some Blacks are moving into senior positions in development at university foundations, the number of minorities in the development field is still small.
According to the National Society of Fund-Raising Executives, Blacks make up just under 2 percent of the organization’s members, despite the fact that the organization has grown from 10,000 members to 22,000 in the last decade. The percentage of Hispanics (1.1 percent), Asians (0.4 percent) and Native Americans (also 0.4 percent) have all remained constant as the organization’s headcount has increased in the last 10 years.
But with the rise in foundation and corporate giving to higher education — American colleges and universities received a record $20.4 billion in private giving last year — gift-seeking gigs have become more prominent.
Experts say that with colleges and universities having to rely more on their fund-raising arms as state allocations dwindle, there’s more room than ever for fund-raisers of color to get into the game.
A Matter of Alarm
“The number of Blacks has not increased in proportion to the growth in the nonprofit world,” says Alice Greene Burnett, a fund-raising consultant who has completed a major study of Blacks in philanthropy for the Lilly Endowment and the Ford Foundation. “It’s a matter of alarm.”
The scarcity of Blacks comes at a time of unprecedented growth in the nonprofit sector. The number of nonprofit organizations jumped 43 percent, from 123,687 in 1989 to 177,604 in 1996, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.
America’s booming economy and the technology revolution also have created Internet billionaires who are creating new foundations to give away some of their wealth. The nonprofit and foundation sector now employs 10.2 million people, making up almost 7 percent of the U.S. workforce.
In addition, as demographics indicate that the nation’s workforce will increasingly include people of color, officials in the nonprofit industry now realize they must take steps to ensure that their ranks include more members of minority groups.
The growth in the nonprofit sector has been accompanied by a huge demand for employees, especially fund-raisers. Universities especially have grown increasingly reliant on private giving and have an insatiable appetite for experienced fund-raisers.
And the pay is not shabby. The average salary for a university fund-raiser in 1999 was $60,000, according to the fund-raising society.
“There are no fund-raisers looking for jobs,” says Dr. Sara Melendez, president of the Independent Sector, a coalition of foundations, nonprofits and corporate giving programs. “There are only jobs looking for fund-raisers.”
Melendez says she is hoping to get minorities to apply for an open assistant director position at her organization. But she knows they are as scarce as hens’ teeth.
Those who work in the field say Blacks have not been attracted to fund-raising largely because they haven’t been exposed to the profession. Despite the recent successes of fund-raisers like William H. Gray III, president and CEO of the College Fund/UNCF, the profession still doesn’t have a high profile in the Black community.
Also, some fund-raisers say their profession is misunderstood.
“There is a lack of understanding about what we do,” says Dorothy Kilgo Colson, director of annual giving at Bennett College and president of the Association of Fund Raising Officers Inc., a group of Black fund-raisers. “People think that all we do is socialize. And while that is a key component of our jobs, it is a very satisfying career because we raise money to provide educational opportunity, to support research.”
In addition, vice presidents looking for good fund-raisers must compete for talent with other high-profile employers like Internet companies.
“Let’s face it, if you can write a good proposal you can do a lot of other things,” says Burnett. “And the nonprofit world can’t compete [with higher paying sectors].”
Traditionally, Blacks in development work for nonprofits that serve minorities or historically Black universities. These organizations tend to pay lower salaries than majority nonprofits or universities.
The Givers and the Receivers
Despite their low numbers, Blacks in development say a couple of new initiatives could help increase the number of Blacks in the field.
First, the National Center for Black Philanthropy is being created in Washington, D.C.
Second, the National Society of Fund-Raising Executives has formed a diversity task force with the goal of increasing the number of minorities in the profession.
“There is a tremendous shortage of minority fund-raisers,” says Charles Stephens, vice-president for institutional advancement at the Interdenominational Theological Center. “Fund-raising has not been seen as a place where minorities went. Fund-raising was for socially affluent volunteers.
“Traditionally, the majority gives to benefit the minority community. The majority community has been the givers and Black folks have been the receivers,” he adds.
But he says that theory ignores the long history of giving in the African American community practiced by the Masons, fraternities and sororities and neighborhood associations.
Until recently, fund-raisers didn’t go to school to learn the business. They usually fell into their careers by accident.
“You didn’t have degrees like you have today,” says Smith Burton. “You just stumbled into the profession and that led to a job in fund-raising or institutional advancement.”
Smith Burton herself started at The College Fund/UNCF — then called the United Negro College Fund — 12 years ago.
They Work Hard for the Money
It can be tough to make the transition from nonprofit organizations, which deal primarily with grass-roots, human services projects, to universities, says Tina Daniels, the director of annual giving and reunion programs at the University of Michigan’s law school.
“Working in human-services nonprofits is hard,” Daniels says. “You’re going after $50, $100 gifts. A lot of times you are just raising money to keep the lights and gas on.”
But since most Blacks in fund-raising work for nonprofit institutions, Daniels says, it is important to provide opportunities for them to move into careers in higher education.
Daniels recently helped a colleague land a position as manager of donor relations at the University of Michigan Dearborn. Renee Truitt had been working for a small nonprofit in Michigan and wanted to do more fund-raising at a university. When Daniels heard about an opening, she referred Truitt for the position. While the university didn’t hire her for the advertised position, they created the donor relations position for her.
“It’s not so much where people have worked, but what they did while they were there,” says Daniels. “I look for interest, desire and drive, and Renee had all of that.”
Colleges and universities benefit when they hire people of color because a diverse staff brings new cultural perspectives to the institution, says Stevens.
“A diverse staff brings new types of creativity, a broader array of thinking. Moreover, people with access to minority communities will become more important as the communities accumulate more wealth,” Stephens says. “[Minorities] bring their networks to the table. As income from minority groups goes up, everybody better look at these new markets.”
But some Black professionals say the nonprofit world has been slower to embrace diversity than the corporate world.
“In the past, nonprofits have been slotted in tradition,” says Dwayne Ashley, the executive director of the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, which raises money for students who attend 38 historically Black public institutions. “They haven’t put Blacks out there to talk with foundations or corporations. They haven’t been comfortable with Blacks talking with CEO’s or managing major capital campaigns.”
Others acknowledge that it can be difficult to make the transition from a Black institution to a majority one.
“There’s often a misconception coming from a Black college,” says Smith Burton. “Many have not raised as much money as they would have at a majority institution. But you have to work much harder to raise that money for a Black institution.”
She also advises Black advancement professionals to not allow themselves to be pigeonholed at majority institutions.
“Raise money for all kinds of projects, not just minority projects,” she says.
And yet, many are optimistic about the future.
“We’re beginning to create networking opportunities that speak to issues of diversity,” says Georgia Tech’s Simmons. “When opportunities come to hire, we’ll be able to tap into our networks and hire a diverse group of talented people.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com