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Diverse Donors: “The Best Kept Secret in Philanthropy”

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How should philanthropy respond to the tremendous demographic changes taking place in the United States?

One way is to weave the work of more diverse donors – “the best kept secret in philanthropy,” according to one of the leaders in the field – into more traditional philanthropy.

“D5 is trying to give a face and a voice to diverse [donor] communities,” said Roger Doughty, the executive director of Horizons Foundation, a San Francisco-based foundation serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. He is also a member of the D5 leadership team and a co-chair of D5’s diverse donors workgroup.

Since the release of the State of the Work 2011 report <<>> in March 2011, the diverse donors workgroup has been busy with “projects that we hope and believe will advance the goal of more donors and more dollars in diverse communities.”

Specifically, D5, in a project managed by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors in partnership with the Foundation Center, has created a database of more than 400 population-focused funds: 501c3 organizations that raise money from community contributions and focus their giving within specific population groups, such as particular racial or ethnic groups, for women, and for lesbian/gay/bisexual/trangendered communities.

“The best‐kept secret in philanthropy are the hundreds of population‐focused funds pushing dollars to communities of color, LGBT populations, and women and girls,” Judy Belk, Senior Vice President of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, said at the time of the database’s release. (Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors serves as D5’s fiscal sponsor and a founding partner of the D5 coalition.)

“Many of these organizational gems are supported by donors from the communities they serve—donors who are redefining the notion of who is a philanthropist,” Belk continued. “This directory shines a spotlight on both the funds and the donors who support them. It should be a go‐to resource for every grantmaker or donor.”

This workgroup has also developed efforts to connect diverse donors with each other — including an event in Los Angeles on November 17 — and to showcase their experience and perspectives.


Population-Focused Funds: A Key Player in Philanthropy

Population-focused funds (PFFs) can play a number of valuable roles working with private and community foundations, Doughty says.

First and foremost, population-focused funds can serve as a valuable source of information and insight.

“These people know their communities really really well — better than, in many cases, a program officer is likely to know it. It’s all they do.” PFFs can be in a position to know what really works to make change — what types of programs will be effective, and what types will not.

Doughty also suggests that private and community foundations consider partnering with population-focused funds on grantmaking programs and even providing support for their operations — a point of view, he acknowledges, that may take some time and effort to establish.

“Most of these [population-focused funds] are small. It’s a tough road to get going. Unlike with most private and community foundations, they’re not started with a big gift,” Doughty said. “[Population-focused funds] started from the grassroots and take a long time to gain traction and have the track record to move towards scale.”

Diverse Donors Event in Southern California

By bringing together diverse donors together for an event in southern California on November 17, D5’s leaders hope to create a regional network of diverse donors who provide significant support to diverse community organizations. The November 17 event is co-sponsored by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Horizons Foundation and the D5 coalition.

Doughty hopes the event, which will feature a performance by Tony Award-winning playwright and performer Sarah Jones and organized discussions and networking among donors, will provide diverse donors the opportunity to get to know one another and learn more about what resources are available to help them. This event will serve as a model for other events and efforts to create diverse donor networks across the country in 2012.

“We’re hoping to inspire and stoke more philanthropy in these communities,” Doughty said.  “The LA event is our first run at this. Undoubtedly, we’re going to learn.”

D5 will write a follow-up blog post after the event.

Also coming soon from D5: a request for applications to award grants to population-focused funds to allow their leaders to participate in philanthropic membership organizations, such as regional grantmaking organizations, attend meetings or undertake other activities that will strengthen their activities and visibility.

How does your organization reach out to, or work with, diverse donor communities? Let us know in the comments.

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