Why It’s So Hard for Black-led Nonprofits to Raise Money
Black-led nonprofits face particular hurdles in fundraising. Here’s why and some ways to proactively plan to financially support these organizations.
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Anyone who has worked for a nonprofit knows how hard it is to fundraise. You’re constantly sending out mass emails, making appeals, looking for new donors, fretting over whether you’ll make budget and whether you’ll be able to pay (almost always less than their labor deserves) your mission-driven team.
As hard as fundraising is, in general, it’s even harder for Black-led nonprofits.
Our First National Conference
When I was president of The Witness, a Black Christian Collective we put on our first national conference in 2019. People had been asking us to do such an event for years.
Honestly, what held me back was the finances. I couldn’t fathom how we’d be able to get enough money to put on a conference.
We couldn’t go to the typical sources of funding—sponsors from large Christian organizations—because nearly all of them were predominantly white and our vocal stance against racism had long made us unpalatable to most.
Even if we could secure funding from these white organizations, then we’d face the constant pressure from certain donors to water-down our racial justice message.
We weren’t willing to do that.
Finally, because our followers needed and desired it, we decided to hold the conference and trusted that the money would come.
So I worked with our conference organizer and we contacted everyone we thought would help. I called, emailed, texted, and DM’ed family members, friends, acquaintances, and near strangers.
It’s a humbling thing to ask for money over and over again. But that’s what we have to do to make this racial justice work happen.
Why It’s So Hard for Black-Led Nonprofits to Raise Money
In my second book, How to Fight Racism, I talk often about money because racism has always been linked to a financial bottom line.
Racism grew and endured in the United States because it was attached to a financial system—race-based chattel slavery.
In a capitalist system, the goal is to maximize profits and minimize losses. If you look at any organization’s budget, typically the biggest line items are related to wages, salaries, and benefits for workers.
The quickest way to cut costs and increase profit is to cut back on those wages, salaries, and benefits. Better yet, if you can get away with it, you don’t pay your laborers at all.
That’s precisely what happened with race-based chattel slavery. For centuries, enslaved Black people literally built the wealth of this nation and they were compensated not a bit.
Even after emancipation, newly freed Black people found themselves released from the physical chains of slavery only to be enslaved to generational poverty.
Through replacement systems such as convict leasing and sharecropping, the economic exploitation of Black people’s labor continued.
Throughout the Depression and postwar eras, officials routinely excluded Black people from federally-funded social support systems such as work programs and the G.I. Bill. They created rules to keep Black people from owning homes or trapped them in unfair mortgage and lending schemes. They excluded Black people from unions, prevented them from holding certain professional jobs, and barred them from promotions.
The legacy of financial discrimination has led to a massive racial wealth gap. Wealth—the difference between one’s assets and liabilities—remains concentrated in the hands of white people.
Estimates vary, but according to a study by the Federal Reserve in 2019
The typical White family has eight times the wealth of the typical Black family and five times the wealth of the typical Hispanic family.
The report goes on to state:
White families have the highest level of both median and mean family wealth: $188,200 and $983,400, respectively. Black and Hispanic families have considerably less wealth than White families. Black families' median and mean wealth is less than 15 percent that of White families, at $24,100 and $142,500, respectively. Hispanic families' median and mean wealth is $36,100 and $165,500, respectively.
For Black-led nonprofits, the racial wealth gap means they do not have access to the financial resources that white-led organizations have. Black people can seldom go to family members or friends for large infusions of cash for their nonprofits. They do not have access to many of the social or professional networks that can provide the monetary resources necessary to grow and scale their organizations.
It is a testimony to the resilience of Black nonprofit leaders to see how much they have accomplished in spite of a persistent lack of resources and financial support.
It is also an indictment on our financial systems that so many Black-led nonprofits maintain subsistence budgets that barely permit their organizations to exist let alone thrive.
Black-led nonprofits persist in survival mode for years and get by on far less money they require or deserve.
So where does the money come from? How do Black-led nonprofits survive?
How to Support Black-Led Nonprofits
A drastic shift in the U.S. financial system that would quickly close the racial wealth gap is not likely to come about in the near future.
The money to support Black-led organizations must come from the grassroots. It must come from “the people.”
Occasional donations when you see an appeal on social media or in a newsletter are insufficient. You need to make a plan to support Black-led nonprofits.
First, identify which organizations you want to support. Find a cause that constantly tugs at your attention, and then search for Black-led organizations doing the work.
Check out their track record. You could even talk to some of the people they serve or have partnered with. You just want to make sure they’re doing good work beyond a well-crafted website.
Next, determine how much you are willing to give. We live in an executive-friendly economic system that compensates people at the top of the financial pyramid at the expense of those lower down. So it could be that you can’t afford much. But you can probably afford something.
After you’ve determined how much you’re willing to give, set up a recurring, unrestricted contribution to your preferred Black-led organizations.
Make it recurring because, from a budgeting and cash-flow perspective, organizations have an easier time accounting for money coming in on a monthly basis rather than a seasonal one.
It’s better to know you have a certain amount coming in each month than to try to project donations based on year-end giving or the results of a short-term fundraising campaign.
Make your donation “unrestricted” if you can. This means the organization can distribute your money where it is needed most.
It doesn’t make for a great appeal at a fundraiser, but it takes money to pay for a copier, internet service, and salaries. While it provides an immediate sense of satisfaction to see your donation go to a specific project, nonprofits need the flexibility to put your money to good use in a variety of areas. An unrestricted gift will do that.
The Movement Requires Resources
We pulled off our national conference—the Joy and Justice conference. The nearly 300 attendees gave us excellent reviews. For us as an organization it was a historic event.
I learned a lot about fundraising, but I would never again want to be in the position of having almost no money and trying to pull off a project or event.
The only way for Black-led organizations to rise out of the monetary morass is for people to intentionally steward their budgets for racial justice and financially contribute to the work in an ongoing proactive way.
The movement requires resources. What are you willing to give?