Dear White People: Black Millennials Give Too

by Ebonie Johnson Cooper, Chief Millennial Officer, Friends of Ebonie
Chasity Cooper, Digital Media Strategist, Millennial on A Mission
Jalisa Whitley, Principal Consultant, The Nonprofit Help, LLC

Are these the only millennials who give? (source)
Are these the only millennials who give? (source)

The 2014 satirical film, Dear White People, follows four black students at a fictitious Ivy League university illustrating overt and covert racial biases that exist at the university. Based on true events, the film helps to shed light on the diversity challenges faced by black students at traditionally all-white institutions. How does this relate to philanthropy? Philanthropy, conventionally speaking anyway, is associated with the “old, white and wealthy.” The inclusion of communities of color into the philanthropic narrative, while not new, is not yet fully realized. Further, the introduction of a new, younger generation within the African – American community seems almost impossible. Like the students highlighted in the film Dear White People, African – American or black millennials are fighting to have their voices heard within a space many would consider out of their league.

Millennials are the most talked about generation of our time. There’s not a day that goes by when the spending habits, living situations and bank accounts of this nation’s largest generation aren’t discussed in the media. And while there are millions of millennials with thousands upon thousands of dollars in student loan debt, there are a large percentage giving back to their favorite nonprofit organizations and charitable causes. The 2014 Millennial Impact Report released by Achieve and the Case Foundation, reports 87% of millennials–those aged 20 to 35–gave a financial gift to nonprofits in 2013. Fantastic. But do all of millennials give alike? What we don’t see reflected in mainstream reports like these is a racial breakdown that offers insight into the giving of the most “ethnically, economically, and socially diverse generation of all time,” according to a report by Edelman Public Relations. If this is true, then why don’t we see a more accurate reflection in millennial giving reporting?

Recently, The Wall Street Journal reported on the philanthropic efforts of the millennial generation. While the article focused on the good work of our generation and it used the widely sourced Millennial Impact Report, WSJ, like many media and non-profit based outlets, failed to recognize the diversity that exists within our generation- starting with the article’s image. Are white millennials the only millennials who give? Where are the black and brown faces that make up most of the generation?

Continually, while the article provides some knowledge on how to advise millennials to give, it again fails to acknowledge how millennials of color choose to show support to their favorite philanthropies. Connected to Give, a collaborative project that brings together a variety of independent, family and community foundations, provided this insight on the giving habits of millennials of color:

More than one in five African American donors (21%) have participated in giving circles, as have higher proportions of Asian/ Pacific Islander donors (16%), and Hispanic/Latino donors (15%). These are higher rates than among both Jewish donors (14%) and white non-Jewish donors (10%). A particularly striking finding was the age of giving circle participants. Unlike other aspects of charitable giving, giving circle participation is much more strongly related to age than to income: nearly half of all participants are under 40.”

Additionally in April 2013, Friends of Ebonie surveyed 274 African American millennials on their giving habits, yielding the following data:

  • 41% of black millennials prefer to give back more in time. 40% prefer to give back both in time and money
  • Top three charitable causes : education, women and girls, and mentoring
  • 92% said that the biggest influence to donate time to an organization was projects where they feel they can make a difference
  • The #1 way black millennials prefer to give their time is through leadership (board leadership, committees work, etc.)

There was even variance within this particular testing group, with 55% of the younger cohort of millennials (aged 20-24) saying that their largest financial gift was $100 or less, and 45% of the older cohort of millennials (30-34) saying that they gave $250 at one single time.

Black and brown millennials are as much engaged in community work as non-black millennials, as evidenced in the aforementioned research. So if black and brown millennials are such active givers, how come they aren’t being portrayed as such throughout mainstream sector media? Would it have been too unbelievable for the Wall Street Journal to use an image of all black young people?

Diversity is a term that many organizations are utilizing these days from board leadership to donors to volunteers. However, diversity can’t be embraced if it isn’t celebrated across all mediums. “Black millennials are a part of a rising tide of talent of color in the US that are important for positive social change,” shares Dr. Rahsaan Harris, Executive Director of Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy in the Friends of Ebonie report.

Further, Black millennials are the key to long-term sustainability for organizations and cause work that focus particularly on the black community. “Black millennials connected to their less well-off family& community members can provide much needed insight to philanthropic efforts aimed at communities of color,” said Harris, Leading philanthropy consultant and author, Christal Jackson adds, “by being engaged around creating solutions to problems plaguing their communities, then connecting with the broader community for resources, black millennials can shift the frame of philanthropy.” (source)

The shift in philanthropy begins with what we hear and what we see about next gen individuals who give. Seeing millennial faces of color in imagery and learning how to engage with them through research reports is key for long-term growth within the sector. The longer we leave millennials of color out of the conversation, the longer we impede change.

Want to continue the conversation? Join ABFE, along with Friends of Ebonie, on Thursday, January 15, 2015 for Dear Philanthropy: A Necessary Conversation on Millennial Diversity within the Sector. Register for the webinar

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