A Black woman wearing a lanyard places fabrics into a bin, she is surrounded by a group of volunteers in green shirts
Image credit: Jovanmandic on istock.com

In the wake of what is often described as the “racial reckoning” that followed the murder of George Floyd in 2020, US philanthropic institutions pledged vast sums of money toward racial justice and racial equity—as much as $4 billion or more, according to an analysis by the Philanthropic Initiative for Racial Equity. 

But there is little data describing how much of those funds went to Black-led grassroots nonprofits, organizations “most connected to the direct needs of Black communities,” according to a new report by the Young, Black & Giving Back Institute (YBGB), which serves Black-led and Black-benefitting nonprofits primarily by working with them on capacity building and fundraising. 

“We wanted to find out more about the needs of Black-led, Black-supporting organizations.”

The report, Grassroots, Black & Giving: How Philanthropy Can Better Support Black-led and Black-benefiting Nonprofits, is based on a survey of over 200 such organizations conducted by YBGB. It attempts to describe the landscape of Black-led nonprofits across the United States, highlighting their unique strengths, assets, and characteristics, as well as the challenges such organizations face, particularly around fundraising. 

The report makes recommendations for funders on how to more effectively support Black-led nonprofits by being better informed about the organizations, who leads them, and what they need to thrive. 

Partnership, Not Performativity

“One of the highlights for me was the number of Black women who were surveyed and identified as leading these organizations.”We wanted to find out more about the needs of Black-led, Black-supporting organizations and their fundraising behaviors, and what can the larger sector of particularly institutional funders [do to] shift or change some of their practices, requirements, barriers to entry?” YBGB executive director Ebonie Johnson Cooper tells NPQ. 

Overall, the YBGB report paints a picture of Black-led and Black-supporting nonprofits as doing more with fewer resources than is often true of their White-led counterparts; and as grassroots organizations operating close to the ground, demonstrating deep understanding of the needs of the communities they serve. 

“One of the highlights for me was the number of Black women who were surveyed and identified as leading these organizations,” notes Johnson Cooper. “It’s a point of celebration but also a point of sadness to know that Black women are doing so much on a day-to-day basis in helping to solve the social ills of our community.”

And while the report commends the resourcefulness of Black-led organizations, it also points to an ongoing disconnect with institutional funders that results in less funding and less overall investment reaching these organizations—despite the many promises made by philanthropic funders in 2020 to invest more in Black-led and Black-supporting nonprofits. 

“Everybody had a pro-Black, antiracist statement,” says Johnson Cooper. “And there were billions of dollars pledged to support Black causes.” 

“It does not surprise me that the commitments and the promises made did not sustain themselves,” she says. “Because, let’s be frank, many of the commitments made were proven to be quite performative.”

“I think for [funders] that say, ‘Oh, well, we have Black grantees,’—are you working with your Black grantees, or just giving them money? I think there’s a difference. Building a relationship with an organization is very different than just writing a check and putting it in your impact report.”

The report shows, says Johnson Cooper, that “it’s going to take more work, more intentionality, for there not to be that disconnect” between funders and Black-led nonprofits.

Let’s be frank, many of the commitments made [to Black-led organizations] were proven to be quite performative.”

A Portrait of Black-Led Nonprofits  

The report details six key findings from their survey. Overall, they describe Black-led organizations as resourceful and close to the ground in terms of both their missions and institutional knowledge and experience. 

The report finds that Black-led nonprofits:

  • Are “grassroots, hyper-local and grounded in communities,” often founded by “leaders who recognize community problems and respond by building infrastructures to address community needs.” Most are led by women and people who are millennials or members of Generation X (that is, people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s) (10).
  • Do “a lot with little,” running on budgets of less than $500,000 annually, with many operating on shoestring budgets of closer to $30,000. Most have small staffs and rely heavily on volunteers; many leaders work side jobs to make ends meet (10).
  • Address “the direct needs of Black communities by focusing on issues related to poverty and economic security,” including health, financial literacy and economic wellness, food insecurity, workforce development, education and youth development (11).
  • Want support to build capacity, with leaders reporting they lack the funds to invest in priorities like individual donor support and would benefit from coaching or training in areas like financial management and fundraising (11).
  • Seek “diverse, authentic and trusting funding partnerships” that serve to genuinely benefit their own needs. Many leaders, the survey found, “believe their organizations are used as a resource to help improve white-led organizations with no clear benefit to their own” (12).
  • Feel “comfortable talking to existing institutional funders about their challenges and presenting their identity authentically,” but also feel pressure to “adapt their message at least somewhat to appeal to white-led philanthropic institutions,” as well as pressure to “accomplish much more with fewer resources than their white-led counterparts” (12).

The good news, the report states, is that “Black-led nonprofits find ways to make an indelible impact on their communities.” 

But that impact could be greater and more durable, the report argues, “with a commitment from philanthropic institutions to center investment in these organizations in ways that help them build capacity and pursue social-change strategies most authentic to the communities being served.”

Recommendations for Funders

The momentum behind racial justice and supporting Black-led nonprofits that swelled in 2020 may have diminished somewhat but has not been lost—and, the report argues, needs to be actively sustained by more and better investment in and support for Black-led nonprofits. 

To this end, the report suggests six recommendations for philanthropic efforts seeking to better support Black-led nonprofits: 

  1. Incorporate funding streams created “alongside and for Black-led nonprofits supporting Black communities.”
  2. Support capacity building within nonprofits, for example by including long-term, multiyear grants and supplemental support for financial management, fundraising, communication, and internal training and leadership coaching. 
  3. Build authentic relationships with Black-led organizations, making efforts to understand both the history of Black-led social change efforts and the realities and unique characteristics of present-day, Black-led nonprofits. 
  4. Provide technical assistance in fundraising, especially toward individual donor cultivation, retention, and diversification. 
  5. Engage in regular and consistent feedback with Black-led nonprofits to better understand their individual needs, as well as to build broader understanding of the landscape of needs of Black-led nonprofits.
  6. Engage in broad systems analysis to better understand and address the context in which the work of Black-led nonprofits occurs. In addition to direct support, funders “can support these Black-led constituencies through social policy, direct services, organizing and leadership to build a robust environment of support for Black communities to thrive.” 

The YBGB survey findings and recommendations serve as a reinforcement of the importance of both elevating Black-led nonprofits and, for funders and would-be supporters, of adopting strategies that meet Black-led nonprofits where they are, that build on their unique strengths, and help them meet their unique challenges.

The report’s conclusions closely echo similar recommendations for “advancing the genius of Black-led change” expressed by Lulete Mola, Repa Mekha, and Chanda Smith Baker in a recent piece for NPQ: that meaningful movement toward a more pro-Black philanthropic sector lies not just in granting money, but in fundamentally shifting power and resources to Black-led organizations while also making changes internally that advance racial justice.

While the YBGB’s report shows there is much work to do toward this goal, YBGB’s Johnson Cooper emphasizes the importance of celebrating the underlying strength and resilience that already exists among Black-led nonprofits. 

“I think these findings are a moment of celebration, to amplify these organizations,” Johnson Cooper tells NPQ, “And to say, ‘Hey, we see you. Your work matters.’”