More than half a century ago I launched my activist career at the age of 3 by carrying my own hand-made “Jim Crow Must Go” sign outside a whites-only amusement park. It’s hard to imagine being alive at a time when that kind of overt racism was possible. And it’s easy for white folks like myself to believe that in this era of an African-American president we’ve made dramatic progress in the years since Jim Crow.
But incidents like Ferguson and Trayvon Martin and Rodney King remind us that it’s not so much that racism has been vanquished as it’s been pushed beneath the surface. And those mediagenic incidents are not so much exceptional as they are spasmodic glimpses into day-to-day reality for an enormous percentage of our population.
One can only hope the day has arrived to finally confront uncomfortable but life and death issues like race. And that has to begin with acknowledging that color and ethnicity persist as central influences on our experiences as Americans.
Those of us privileged to “do philanthropy” for a living have an opportunity, and arguably a responsibility, to lead the nation in doing better. But we’re not there yet. Instead, we’re a largely white profession catering to a disproportionately white donor population. And that’s not because white people are more charitable or more generous. It’s because we’ve failed to fully engage non-white Americans in one of America’s most important institutions.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to read Blackbaud’s new study Diversity in Giving: The Changing Landscape of American Giving. What it is not is a cookbook providing follow-the-dots recipes direct marketers can use to “raise more money from people of color.” There are differences in how different racial and ethnic donors give and the kinds of causes they support. But if you read this report only for tactical advice, you’ll miss the point.
At a more important level the report is an exercise in listening. And hopefully an opening for an urgent dialogue that is years overdue.
It’s also a call to action. As so beautifully put by Silicon Valley Community Foundation President Dr. Emmett Carson in his foreword to the study, “Ultimately, the most successful nonprofit organizations will realize that to attract and maintain a diversified funding base will require that their boards, staff, and programming also be diverse. Nothing less than a complete transformation in this regard will be sufficient.”
In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, the times they are a-changing.