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Faces Like Mine: A Journey of Blacks and Philanthropy

Faces Like Mine: A Journey of Blacks and Philanthropy

July 27, 2019
Joan Bahner

For over 20 years I have served “faces like mine” in advancement, particularly in alumni fundraising. For many of those years, I thought my constituents were just recipients of charitable giving, which seemed to be the consensus. 

But African Americans have always been philanthropic. It took the 2012 Kellogg Foundation study Cultures of Giving: Energizing and Expanding Philanthropy by and for Communities of Color to correctly highlight the philanthropic nature of my community. That study argues that African Americans give larger shares of their income to charity than any other group – $11 billion annually, representing 25% more than white donors.

Philanthropy in America is commonly associated with wealthy white men. But “faces like mine” don’t only give to churches; they give transformational gifts. For example:

  • Bernard and Shirley Kinsey established the Kinsey Collection, a large collection of historical African American artifacts that toured the country, hosted by Wells Fargo, raising millions for historically black colleges and universities, including their alma mater, Florida A&M.
  • Eddie and Sylvia Brown of Baltimore granted $6 million to Maryland Institute, College of Art (MICA).

Public opinion that philanthropy only relates to the wealthy must be changed. We must redefine philanthropy and how blacks give back.

The legacy of slavery, the failed promise of the Reconstruction era, redlining, lending discrimination, and past and continuing housing inequality have erected barriers to wealth accumulation. Yet, blacks give at higher rate despite the $20,000 income gap between them and whites. Philanthropy doesn’t do a good job with diversity. In Washington, D.C., with a majority black population:

  • 82% of nonprofit CEOs are white.
  • 92% of foundation presidents are white.
  • 86% of nonprofit board members are white.

Therefore, the philanthropic potential of the black community is underestimated. It is our duty to future generations to develop strategies that promote black community wealth and asset creation by:

  • promoting community economic development; 
  • passing anti-discrimination policies; and
  • supporting low-income workers who are disproportionately African American. 

Through advocating for black communities, we can remove the blinders and increase charitable giving to causes that are dear to “faces like mine,” such as the fights against AIDS in Africa and against toxic pollution affecting minority communities, for example.

What a great start! Let’s do it!


Joan Bahner

Joan joins Lighthouse Counsel as a senior consultant. Joan has more than 30 years of experience in strategic planning, policymaking, problem solving, fundraising, special projects and communication. She previously held several leadership positions at Fisk University in Nashville, including executive director of alumni affairs and development, executive director of the general alumni association, dean of student affairs and vice president for institutional advancement. As vice president for institutional advancement at Fisk, Joan raised $3.5 million in annual donations; increased giving by faculty, staff, board and alumni; and built an advancement team after securing approval for capacity building. Joan was selected as President of TARC-Tennessee Advancement Resources Council. She has served on the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) International Board of Trustees and the CASE National Commission on Alumni Relations. She was the chair of the Committee on Opportunity and Equity, as well as chair of CASE District III. She was honored with the CASE District III Distinguished Service Award and the Alumni Achievement Award from Fisk University. Joan has been engaged in her community, with leadership including service on the board of Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee and on the board of Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Fisk University and a master’s in biology at Tennessee State University. Joan’s favorite quote: “A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.” —Arnold H. Glasow