How Racism Still Affects Millionaire Donors of Color: Report | Radio WGN 720


When philanthropist Mona Sinha walked into her first meeting on a museum advisory board, she immediately noticed she was the youngest person in the room and the only person of color there. Instead of being greeted as a new colleague, the other members of the advisory board asked her if she was a fundraiser for the museum. Such experiences often make people of color feel unwelcome in philanthropy.

Sinha says the emotional toll of operating in a predominantly white environment has discouraged many wealthy people of color from pursuing philanthropic leadership roles. “Along with a lot of people, I find that discrimination over the years has damaged self-esteem so much that it’s very difficult to claim that spot,” she says.

A new qualitative study of 113 millionaires of color found nearly all had experienced racial or ethnic bias. “It’s so obvious, but it’s also very profound,” says report co-author Hali Lee, founding partner of Radiant Strategies and co-founder of the Donors of Color Network. She says the discovery shows how racism has affected the lives of millionaires of color – from where they raise their families to the people and causes they support.

The study was released Wednesday by the Donors of Color Network, a membership organization for wealthy philanthropists from marginalized backgrounds, as well as two consulting firms, Radiant Strategies and the Vaid Group. From 2016 to 2018, Lee and a research team traveled to 10 US cities to conduct 90-minute conversations with donors of color who had $1 million or more in cash. The result, say the authors, is a “qualitative snapshot” rather than a representative sample.

“People of color who give bring a different set of priorities to the table in their own life experience,” says report co-author Urvashi Vaid, who co-founded the Donors of Color Network and is president of the Vaid Group. She says it changes both the agenda for philanthropy and what’s possible for the nonprofits they support.

Vaid highlights donor contributions to social and racial justice causes from 2015 to 2017, the years the researchers surveyed donors about their donations. Donors ranked both causes among their top five philanthropic priorities. Education was the most popular cause, named a priority by just over 65 percent. Over 44% said social justice was a major cause, followed closely by women and women’s rights at almost 40% and racial justice at over 36%.

“The growth in racial justice donations that has occurred recently was foreshadowed in our data,” Vaid says. “It’s a giving community – a lot.”

Interviews with wealthy people of color in the new report, according to the co-authors, draw a straight line between donors’ personal experiences — completing college, experiencing racism and struggling with economic inequality — to their philanthropic priorities.

There are striking similarities between the donors interviewed for the study. Many said their parents raised them to give and help others, and most also said they managed their philanthropy without the help of a professional philanthropy advisor. Additionally, the interviews highlighted how well-connected wealthy donors of color are, particularly because of their membership in fraternity, sorority or community organizations, Lee says.

Another commonality among donors surveyed is that more than 65% were self-made millionaires. Nearly 78% of donors surveyed said they had helped relatives and friends with living and education costs, provided emergency monetary support, and helped pay for weddings, among other costs, during the course of the year. year preceding their interview.

“That will always be my priority,” says Eric Fuller, an aerospace engineer and philanthropist in Oakland, Calif. His family knows he is a donor to organizations working on education, housing, and criminal justice reform, especially in his native Bay Area. . But it’s also important to him that they know they can count on him for financial support.

Nonprofits need to understand the obligations of self-made millionaires of color in addition to their charitable goals, says Ashindi Maxton, co-founder of the Donors of Color Network and co-author of the report.

“If you’re the Sierra Club, you’re not competing with the National Wildlife Conservancy, you’re actually competing with someone’s aunt or cousin,” Maxton says. While donors may want to support a new nonprofit program, they may also need to help a friend pay a water bill or send their nephew to college.

Fundraisers can be narrow-minded when it comes to identifying new donors, seeking out new supporters who are similar to their current ones. But when they’re not looking for donors of color, they’re leaving a lot of money and relationships on the table, Fuller says.

Donors surveyed for the study made median annual contributions of $87,500 to charities, political campaigns, places of worship, family and friends. The largest share of donors in the report – around 30% – said they gave $50,000 or less per year to these recipients. More than 20% said they gave more than $300,000 a year, and of those, 55% estimated their annual donation at $1 million.

One way for nonprofits to build relationships with these donors is to hire fundraisers of color, Maxton says. If they don’t, fundraisers are more likely to connect primarily with white donors.

It’s natural for people to connect more easily with people who look like them, Maxton says.

“You’re going to connect with people who look like everyone on your team,” she says. “If you don’t change the bodies of your organization, if you don’t actually have that lived experience inside your organization, it’s going to be hard to make those connections.”

It’s also important for nonprofit groups to check their biases, Lee says. Time and time again, she says, donors have told her about fundraisers who thought their homes wouldn’t be big enough to host an event or that they didn’t know of other wealthy people who could support their cause.

Sinha, the philanthropist, puts it this way: “As a donor of color, we often face the same obstacles as many of our recipients.”


The Associated Press’s coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits is supported by the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit


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