Posted on January 6, 2021

Black-Led Organizations That Saw a Surge in Donations Look for Lasting Impact

Julianne McShane, NBC News, December 31, 2020

On June 2, about 28 million people posted black squares to their Instagram feeds as part of Blackout Tuesday, an initiative started by two Black women in the music industry — Jamila Thomas, senior director of marketing at Atlantic Records, and Brianna Agyemang, a former executive at Atlantic — in an effort to encourage reflection about the prevalence of anti-Black racism and police brutality.

While some people’s engagements with the cause ended on Instagram — drawing criticism from some activists and academics, who derided the posts as prime examples of “slacktivism,” or half-hearted social media-based activism — others opened their wallets to donate to Black-led and Black-focused nonprofit organizations, collectives and mutual aid groups.

The Black Art Futures Fund was one of many beneficiaries of Blackout Tuesday: The fund, which provides grants to small community-based Black arts and culture organizations, received $20,000 in donations on June 2 alone, according to founder DéLana R.A. Dameron — $1,000 less than it had distributed in all of 2019 and $5,000 more than it had distributed in 2018. The surge in donations continued for the next few months, helping the fund to distribute $95,000 in grants to dozens of organizations.

But six months later, those donations have tapered off and the fund’s coffers are substantially lower — which comes as no surprise to Dameron, given her years spent working with chronically underfunded Black-led nonprofit organizations.

“We haven’t had a $20,000 day since June,” said Dameron, who founded the Black Art Futures Fund in 2017 as a project of her Brooklyn-based firm, Red Olive Creative Consulting.

The fund’s year in finances is similar to those of more than a dozen Black-led and Black-focused groups across the country, whose leaders spoke to NBC News in interviews over the past week about how the pandemic and anti-racism protests affected their organizations’ work and visions for the future.

As the pandemic unfolded and disproportionately hit Black Americans and protests took place across the country after the police-involved deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Tony McDade, among others, individual donors spent the late spring and early summer donating to Black-led and Black-focused groups in amounts never seen before, said leaders of large and small organizations. While the donations have persisted for some groups, most leaders said the summer surge has since leveled off, leading them to develop strategies for how to keep donors engaged in 2021 and most effectively put this year’s funds to use in the future.


Black people give 25 percent more of their incomes away to philanthropic initiatives than white people do, according to a 2012 study from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. But Black-led organizations remain underfunded compared to organizations led by white people, according to a report published this year by Echoing Green and Bridgespan. It found that the revenues of Black-led organizations are, on average, 24 percent smaller than those of their white-led counterparts. {snip}

These issues inspired Christina Lewis, Stephanie Ellis-Smith and David Setiadi to found Give Blck, a database of Black-founded nonprofit organizations, this year.


A significant cause of the giving gap, according to Ellis-Smith, is the endurance of wealth disparities that disproportionately affect Black Americans and stretch back to slavery, which prevented millions of enslaved Black people and their descendants from building generational wealth. Other barriers for Black-led organizations seeking funding from foundations include being locked out of social networks — in part because of racism and interpersonal biases — that facilitate connections to the philanthropic community, as well as funders’ biases toward white-led organizations, according to the Echoing Green and Bridgespan study.

Since its inception in June, Give Blck has spurred more than $100,000 in donations to Black-founded nonprofit organizations, Lewis said — a feat that she attributes to the individual donors who gave in droves this year, many for the first time.

Small donors’ contributions this year to young, locally focused groups in particular were often transformative, allowing them to hire more staff and secure permanent spaces to call home.

From June to August, 600 donors around the world gave to Black Women Speak, a Minneapolis-based organization that provides programming and discussion spaces for Black women. The funds allowed founder A’Bryana Ware to start working for the organization full time, hire three part-time staffers and start the hunt for a physical space, she said. {snip} From its July 2019 founding until June, the group never received any monetary donations, Ware added.

The arts cooperative Black Table Arts, another Minneapolis-based group, signed a three-year lease on a new space that will host a bookstore, a workspace and a performance space, according to founder and executive director Keno Evol. At least $400,000 in donations were raised over the summer, turning the idea for the space from a hope into a reality five years sooner than he said he expected. {snip}


For some organizations, donations have been consistent throughout the year.

The National Black Justice Coalition, a civil rights and public policy organization focused on supporting Black LGBTQ+ people, reported a 1,000 percent increase in online donations this year as compared to yearly averages since its 2003 founding, according to chief executive officer Sharon Lettman-Hicks, who declined to say exactly how much the group raised but said donations have been steady.


The National Black Women’s Justice Institute, a research and policy-focused nonprofit organization that aims to eliminate racial and gender disparities in the legal system, went from raising $1,000 in 2019 to more than $100,000 in 2020, according to executive director Sydney McKinney, who said cash has continued to come in since the spring.