Videoconference Participants Get Insider Tips on Ethnic Philanthropy
When it comes to ethnic philanthropy, a couple of
things need to be clear. First, the color that really counts is not
Black, White, Brown, or Red, but green – as in dollar green. Second,
without know how and persistence, pleas for funding will likely not be
heard regardless of the nobility or desperation of the plea.
The underpinnings of these and other views were provided by a
first-of-its-kind panel of ethnic philanthorpy experts on a
“Ethnic Philanthropy,” the initial offering in the 1997-98 series of
Black Issues in Higher Education videoconferences, provided the
first-ever opportunity for such a diverse representation of ethnic and
racial groups to come together to talk about minority giving.
The panel, which was moderated by Kojo Nnamdi, included: Rodney
Jackson, publisher of The Black Philanthropy Newsletter; Marjorie
Fujiki, executive director of Asian American and Pacific Islanders in
Philanthropy; Steven Paprocki, associate director of research for the
National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy; Mildred Hudson, a
fundraising consultant who was a former program officer of Dewitt
Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund; L. Steven Zwerling, senior director of
education, media, arts and culture for the Ford Foundation; Ana
Rivas-Vasquez vice president for development and external relations at
St. Thomas University, and a member of the board of Hispanics in
Philanthropy; and John Maestas, vice president for university
advancement at the University of Southern Maine and president of the
organizations American Indians in Philanthropy and the Fundraising
Many challenges face development officers and others seeking funds
for institutions today, members of the panel observed. One challenge is
to improve the current climate toward giving, which is shifting from an
emphasis on the higher education level to an emphasis on the K-12
level. The apparent reason for the shift is the growing belief that by
giving at the front end of the educational pipeline, there will be
better students – and less need to give – at the higher education level.
Another challenge is the decline in the popularity of – and the
increase in lawsuits challenging – ethnic-based scholarships. This has
become increasingly troublesome since the 1994 Fourth U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeal’s ruling against a publicly-funded African American
scholarship program at the University of Maryland. Last month, the
Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, citing the court
decision in Maryland, also ended a scholarship program at a two-year
college in Virginia which used private funds. (Seepage 16 for related
story.) The University of California system’s Board of Regents has
ended all racebased admissions and scholarship policies as well.
“You can’t expect to receive just because you are Black,” Jackson
said. “You have to be accountable and provide a product people want to
Despite these trends, Hudson pointed out that the New York Times
reported that 17,000 new foundations are expected to come into
existence in the next decade. So there is reason for optimism, the
When the discussion turned to the need to demonstrate self-reliance
before asking for help from the philanthropic community, Jackson
acknowledged, “It is crucial that a group demonstrates a self-help
attitude before asking for funds. You want to show that your own people
– faculty, trustees, etc. – are going to support fundraising efforts
before asking others.”
Zwerling added that when considering what institutions will receive
funds, the Ford Foundation now wants to know what an institution is
doing for itself.
“In line with that, a major initiative of ours is to get more assessment officers from the minority community,” he said.
But Fujiki cautioned that these evaluators need to be culturally sensitive and understanding in their assessments.
“They need to be able to get to the heart of what happens in a program,” she said.
As for the shrinking-pie theory and worry that there will be
increased competition on a stagnant level of funding, Vasquez said, “I
choose not to believe that funds are drying up but that we can create
more giving. Remember that most giving is from individuals.”
Indeed, the panel agreed that there needs to be more appeals made to
individuals – and not only to the well-known rich or to alumni. The
example of Osceola McCarty – the seemingly poor, elderly, Black woman
who endowed a scholarship for African American students at the
University of Southern Mississippi with $150,000 – was cited as a case
in point. McCarty had had no prior affiliation with the university
before giving her savings to it.
It was suggested that institutions create giving opportunities by
approaching the fundraising process in the same way that the private
“We need to spend time understanding our constituencies,” RivasVasquez said.
The Ford Foundation’s Zwerling added that philanthropic
organizations want more than the ability to understand those who
receive the benefits of their generosity. They also want to know how
the money will be used.
“I don’t want to hear from development officers, I want to hear from deans and people who make things happen,” he said.
Paprocki pointed to workplace payroll deductions which The College
Fund/UNCF effectively utilizes, and Florida A&M University’s use of
corporate recruiters such as Navistar as examples of new fundraising
concepts which have proven successful.
Marketing also needs to be done on how to approach various cultural
groups, Rivas-Vasquez said, noting that Hispanics need to be approached
differently from African Americans or Asians or Caucasians.
“For example,” Rivas-Vasquez said, “there are myths out there that
Hispanics don’t give philanthropically. I conducted some research on
Hispanic giving and found that the problem is that they are not
“Marketing also involves knowing the previous giving patterns of your target,” Maestas added.
The philanthropic patterns of African Americans were also
questioned. Jackson responded that while in some cases it is true that
African Americans do not give to their own higher education
institutions, he believes this is not the norm. In his experience,
African American donors expect to be asked to give.
Additionally, Jackson suggested that a reason Blacks do not give to
the traditionally White institutions they attended was perhaps due to
negative experiences they endured while attending those institutions.
One study cited by Jackson and done at a traditionally White
institution found that African American alumni gave more when they were
asked to be on committees and involved with giving campaigns, making
them feel like they were more a part of the institution.
According to the panel, the leadership of savvy development officers is crucial to successful fundraising.
“The development officer is both the most and least important person
on the team,” Jackson said. “To be a facilitator of the giving process
is what the development officer has to learn.”
“They also have to create partnerships with administration, staff and know the protocol in approaching them,” Maestas said.
The panelists concluded by giving strategies for success, which
included: knowing and understanding your market; being willing to take
risks; having a mix of funding sources with an emphasis on individuals;
approaching new donors; and not being afraid to plow new ground.
Said Jackson in conclusion: “The successful [fundraisers] will be
those who consider that it takes time, patience, [and] energy – and
[who understand] that [fundraising] is a long term process.”
COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com