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Individual Giving

Upending the Power Structure of Giving

The issues and effects of “diverse donors” are no longer marginal, but a central part of the complex philanthropic and social sector in the US.

As we’ve all read (over and over), myriad sets of voters are getting credit for President Obama’s re-election: African Americans, Hispanics, women, young people, LGBTQ people, urban dwellers, Wall Street Occupiers, highly educated people. Somewhere there must be that singular person who embodies all these features: a recently married 24-year-old lesbian in Brooklyn with an African American parent, a Hispanic parent, and a master’s in nonprofit management. I hope she finds a job soon.

One interpretation of the election’s lesson is that we now have a somewhat different set of what used to be called “special interest groups.”  But that’s unduly cynical (or maybe that’s just another hope). While we continue to assess the implications of the last election cycle, one theme rings clearly for the philanthropic sector: the issues and effects of “diverse donors” are no longer marginal, but a central part of the complex philanthropic and social sector in the United States.

Millions of dollars, and millions of people, have contributed to this increased visibility for the issues important to diverse donors. According to the Foundation Center, some $400 million has gone to LGBTQ issues in the last 10 years. The Women Moving Millions campaign has encouraged $240 million in donations since 2007, inspiring more and more women with substantial resources to make leadership and legacy gifts. Our research here at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA) found that there are now some 400 population-focused giving funds across the United States, representing communities of color, immigrant groups, women, youth, and other “nontraditional” givers.

Donors and advocates in communities of color, of immigrants, of women’s issues, and of LGBTQ causes have made astonishing progress not only in advancing their agendas, but in attracting others to their agendas. Some examples:

  • Gay marriage has prominent spokespeople from within and outside the LGBTQ community, and is viewed as a national, cross-class issue. Soon it may be a non-issue, should the Supreme Court decide to recognize gay marriage at the federal level.
  • A few days after the election, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page noted that immigrants to the United States use social services at a much lower level than do US-born residents.
  • Foundations and institutions that are not women-led recognize that funding programs which support women and girls offer tremendous social and financial returns. The 2012 Clinton Global Initiative had a track on that topic this year (although only one-third of its presenters were women).
  • Even as the United States has moved away from affirmative action, awareness of how race and ethnicity plays a role in educational quality, health care, and job opportunity has never been higher in our sector.
  • We are Philanthropy,” the November 2012 conference hosted by RPA and the D5 coalition to advance diversity and inclusion in philanthropy, brought together a much broader cross-section of givers—“diverse” and “non-diverse” donors, institutions and collaboratives.

What we’re seeing, in other words, is that the word “inclusiveness” in the catch phrase “diversity and inclusiveness” has begun attaining reality. For funders interested in this phenomenon, we’ve outlined some considerations in our donor guide Diversity, Inclusion and Effective Philanthropy. In the coming year, just for starters, we’ll see the effects of that shift toward diversity and inclusion in giving ever more clearly in the social sector, especially in programs focused on civic engagement and civic participation across the U.S. And these initiatives are increasingly crowd-funded and Twitter-fueled. (Think about what happened when the Susan G. Komen Foundation attempted to defund grants for Planned Parenthood breast cancer screenings because of a congressional investigation into whether the group was using federal money to pay for abortions.)

The individual givers who fund community organizations and campaigns across the country increasingly represent the current—and future—composition of our society and our philanthropy. Their impact—on issues like voting rights, immigration, and women’s health—is upending the power structure of giving. Their individual and collective successes give traditional donors and philanthropies a lot to think about in 2013.

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COMMENTS

  • Hi Melissa, I hope your dichotomy of traditional and non-traditional donors doesn’t become tradition.

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