When Brown Edwards reached out asking me if I would be interested in presenting about the changing face of the donor during their Not-For-Profit-Symposium I was excited. It wasn’t until Dan and I got together to work out a game plan when we decided that donors of color would be one of the two main topics for our presentation. As an African American woman, so much of the research I conducted resonated with me, my family, and how we give. The motivations and giving practices for people of color stray from more traditional giving practices and non-profit organizations need to better understand these motivations and influences to continue with our work.

What motivates a donor of color to give?


The number one motivation for people of color in the US to give is their faith. Although this is not typically seen as a philanthropic endeavor, many donors of color have deep religious roots and when looking at their resources, they prioritize giving through those faith-based community efforts. In many families of color, faith-based donations are instilled in children from a very young age and as they reach adulthood, they chose to spend their resources by giving back to their community.


Self-help is seen as the most economical weapon to fight against racial oppression of the donor’s racial or ethnic group, making it personal. Many, specifically in the African American community, take pride in taking care of their own. This is also true across other communities of color, particularly Hispanic and Asian communities.


For many, many years, people of color have often felt excluded from mainstream culture and in minority communities, people develop their own way of economic reciprocity with one another; bartering and trading services within a community to help each other.


To level the playing field, donors of color want to provide better pathways forward for the younger generations. They wholeheartedly believe in the power of education and striving for excellence. Donors of color will invest heavily in these types of endeavors, from afterschool programs to scholarship opportunities.

Many of these giving trends derive from a lack of trust and confidence in mainstream philanthropic institutions. This may explain why many donors of color choose to self-organize and help each other in more efficient ways.

What influences where donors of color give?


Again, faith is the number one influence for where a donor of color will give. They are going to give through their house of worship or another faith-based giving stream.


Universities and education-related organizations that can secure a better path forward for younger generations will earn financial gifts from donors of color. It’s not just about the education but it’s what they achieve and become a part of, it’s a legacy. It is what those colleges and universities are born out of and is really something that is instilled in the students. We want to show up in the community and continue to pour back into the university for those coming behind us.


Not surprisingly, civil rights and arts organizations that are counteracting racism directed towards their ethnic groups receive financial gifts from donors of color.

I think there's an opportunity for non-profits to really amplify and highlight the work they may be doing in this arena to connect with those donors of color.


There is a desire to support institutions that are providing capital to diverse populations, especially among Hispanic donors. Donors want to invest in organizations that are investing in their population.

What specific tools and techniques do donors of color use to enhance their giving?


Donors of color place a high value on knowing where their money is, which is why they will give through personal connections and small grants. This provides donors with confidence about how their dollars are going to be spent since they have a historic distrust of mainstream philanthropic institutions.


Giving circles are another unique giving opportunity. Circles are comprised of different groups, whether it's men’s groups or community groups, and there is typically a monthly donation. Giving circles are able to provide immediate support, right, at the ground level as the need arises. They engage that circle, that telephone tree, or whatever it is, and funds are immediately available to meet the need in the community.


We find that our donors of color utilize online media and crowdfunding as a way to connect with a person or a cause that is hitting home for them. Typically, this is an immediate connection and most often a crisis or emergency scenario. According to national surveys conducted over the past three years, 34% of donors of color donate through a crowdfunding site every year.

Other philanthropic trends for donors of color I noticed were:

  • 53% volunteer
  • 34% donate blood
  • 70% donate goods
  • African Americans had a higher tendency than others to give money to strangers directly
  • Asian and African Americans are more likely to give to racial and social justice causes, as compared with their white counterparts

As you're thinking about your storytelling, think about different ways of engaging with donors. Storytelling is very important when you’re trying to engage donors that are beyond your facts and figures. It helps them to identify with the work and where it is making the most impact. In particular, donors of color are very interested in the impact on people, groups, and individuals.


How to attract diverse donors

Understanding and recognizing the distinct histories, resources, and challenges that shape the giving of donors of color in their communities will help you to connect with them. It is also important to understand the differences between the different ethnic groups. A lot of times there is a very specific history within the community. There isn’t going to be a cookie-cutter tactic that you can apply. It really is about deepening that awareness and engagement with the economic groups and the changing ethnic identity within your community.

Get engaged! Find out what motivates them, learn where they are already giving, and see where there is alignment with your organization. You really want to engage on the ground level to understand the nuances within your community and find out who the trusted leaders are in those communities. These leaders already know what is working in the community, what is needed, and they are trusted among the community members. Connecting with them to help bridge the gap is better than an outsider trying to come in and determine what is needed or where they should be giving.

There are many opportunities to think differently about philanthropy and engage with the non-traditional people that we think of as repeat donors. We think of high-impact people that we want to bring into our organization but bringing into our circle people we can rely on to be ambassadors for us is equally if not more important. In order to do that, I think your organization will need to start thinking differently and step outside of your comfort zone a little bit. Having awareness of what the opportunities are is a good first step and at least dips your toe into this topic. There is a great deal of research that is coming forth, and I would encourage everyone to pay close attention to it. We need to prepare for it and come out of our comfort zones. There's a lot of great work to be done and we all have an opportunity to define what this looks like in the future.

Click here to read part one of this series, The Changing Face of the Donor – A New Generation.

You can watch my full presentation by visiting the Brown Edwards YouTube channel and download additional resources below.

Watch Video


Additional Resources:

Everyday Donor of Color
Charitable Giving Statistics
Momentum Report on Improving Outcomes of African American Males
Responsive Philanthropy in Black Communities