Published in Nonprofits

Backed by new grant, GR Community Foundation to focus on African American, Latinx giving

BY Sunday, December 08, 2019 10:22am

GRAND RAPIDS — Backed by a three-year grant, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation aims to better understand and encourage philanthropic giving in the region’s African American and Latinx communities. 

In November, the Battle Creek-based W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded the $350,000 grant as part of its $9.5 million Catalyzing Community Giving (CCG) program, which is now in its fourth installment. The Grand Rapids Community Foundation is one of 32 community foundations, nonprofits and emerging networks to receive funding in the latest round. 

From left to right: Jonse Young, Ashley Lee, Jenine Torres COURTESY PHOTOS

The Kellogg Foundation’s Catalyzing Community Giving initiative supports communities of color by using philanthropy to become agents of their own change while engaging donors in issues that disproportionately affect vulnerable children and families in their communities.

“Philanthropy is alive and well in all communities, but oftentimes it’s not called philanthropy,” said Jenine Torres, development officer at Grand Rapids Community Foundation. “It could be giving of yourselves and convening and collaborating with neighbors or a church. … We want to partner with philanthropy that’s already happening.”

Grand Rapids Community Foundation plans to use the funding to amplify locally-driven philanthropy by and for communities of color by supporting efforts already underway in its African American Heritage Fund and emerging Latinx philanthropy work. The financial support from the Kellogg Foundation “elevates philanthropy already happening, and partnering with us empowers them to activate the level of giving,” according to Torres. 

“Communities of color are using philanthropy to expand giving on their own terms and in ways that are meaningful for their communities,” Ciciley Moore, program officer for Kellogg Foundation’s office of the president and the lead for the Catalyzing Community Giving project, said in a statement. 

“When people of color direct how resources are invested, it can transform the lives of children and families in their community. CCG helps democratize the field of philanthropy — shifting who we see as philanthropists and creating a more equitable and just philanthropic practice,” Moore said. 

Driving understanding

In 2006, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation’s African American Heritage Fund was created in response to a community desire to engage the African American community in giving through formalized philanthropy led by community leaders. Backed by a $10,000 match, the Community Foundation launched the fund with a focus on providing education and job opportunities for African American youth.

“This was a way of establishing a fund that would honor current and previous philanthropy and move us forward in a more collective way in addressing youth with summer learning loss,” said Jonse Young, director of philanthropic services at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

Young said the Community Foundation’s work early on with building relationships with communities of color has been noted by the Kellogg Foundation and others, adding that the grant funding is an example of that recognition.

The funding will provide opportunities to understand what philanthropy looks like in the African American community, in addition to finding out what other issue areas there are and what the community could benefit from, Young said.

“There are numerous efforts or issues or areas of concern that the community would like to make an impact on, and we want to understand and not make assumptions. We really want to hear from communities in Kent County,” Young said.

As part of this initiative, the Community Foundation will spend a significant amount of time partnering with individuals who can really help identify organizations or individuals in the community who are working to make positive change for communities of color. Torres said this will help “us to learn who those individuals and organizations are” with assistance from a consultant.

Both the African American Heritage Fund and the Latinx Advisory Committee are made up of volunteers who can inform this process, Torres added.

“For us, this is really intentional about bringing people together to have a collective impact,” said Ashley Lee, vice president of public relations and marketing at the Community Foundation. “We’re partnering with communities that are already doing this work and giving of themselves.  These communities know what changes need to happen and where those resources are best directed. We want to find out how we can partner to have a stronger collective impact and what it might look like to pool those resources and come together.”

Changing demographics

Fostering and nurturing these relationships and partnerships to strengthen philanthropy across the board makes sense given that by 2040, the demographics on a local, state and national level will be markedly different, according to Kellogg Foundation studies.

The Kellogg Foundation issued a report in 2012 that focused on the groundbreaking movement to activate and organize giving within and on behalf of America’s communities of color, an effort known as identity-based philanthropy. 

“Almost across the board, communities of color are intensifying their charitable giving,” according to the report. 

Among the findings, 63 percent of Latino households were making charitable donations and nearly two-thirds of African American households were donating to organizations and causes at a rate of $11 billion annually. In addition, Asian American and African American households on average give away a larger percentage of their income per year than whites.

“And this doesn’t even account for the ample contributions of time and know-how being poured back into communities of color, which can’t be monetized but are often more valuable than dollars,” according to the report.

Torres said there’s no disputing that demographics are changing and that there continues to be a lot of inequity facing various communities in West Michigan. She said philanthropy is one way to achieve the racial, social and economic justice that these communities are pursuing.

“I think that it’s fair to say that because philanthropy was built by primarily wealthy individuals over history, inevitably there were some communities that were exiled from this model,” she said. “We as an industry are shifting what we think philanthropy is.”

With traditional philanthropy, there’s a misperception about who a philanthropist is, Torres added.

“This effort really allows us to demonstrate that we are all philanthropists in our own ways,” she said. “Everyone is a philanthropist and can impact the change they want to see. We are catalyzing community giving in the African American and Latinx communities, but we know there are lots of communities that may want to partner in this way and we want to see how we can partner with other communities.”

Young said it’s all about building authentic relationships with communities of color and having conversations to understand what their areas of interest are, what they want to resolve and the effect they want to make.

“The theme of this whole effort has to be ‘for the community and by the community,’ and that’s the message and the goal,” she said. 

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