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Personal Experiences Shape High-Net-Worth BIPOC Donors

By Richard H. Levey

High-net-worth Black, Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC) donors reported median annual giving levels of $87,500, with more than 30% giving $300,000-plus, according to a new study.

The main recipients of their largesse include education-focused nonprofits, which were mentioned by nearly two-thirds (65%) of the 113 individuals interviewed. Other causes supported include social justice organizations (44%), women and gender rights nonprofits (40%), racial justice organizations (37%) and health-focused nonprofits (35%).

High net worth donors are those who have liquid net assets in excess of $1 million, which translates to the ability to give $50,000 per year, according to the authors of Philanthropy Always Sounds Like Someone Else: A Portrait of High Net Worth Donors of Color, a new study from Redan, Ga.-based The Donors of Color Network. Ultra-high net worth donors, who made up nearly 23% of the study, are those with liquid net assets in excess of $30 million, which renders them able to give $1 million a year, according to the authors.

The study was based on interviews with 113 high net worth Black, Indigenous and People of Color donors. The interviews were conducted over a three-year period in 10 cities across the United States.

These donors are very likely to draw on their experiences with racism, discrimination and bias when making decisions about supporting nonprofit causes. Black donors cited generations of oppression, discrimination and racialized poverty as influencing their perspectives, while donors with immigrant histories cited global economic disparity, immigration policy and general xenophobia. While many sought to change or alleviate these conditions through their giving, some were frustrated about not knowing how to best target their donations to affect these changes.

Donors interviewed mentioned the importance of giving as being an essential part of their attitudes toward being funders. They told stories of their parents’ home cultures, the churches in their hometowns or an “open spot” at a family dinner table. But many reacted with vitriol toward the idea that people were solely responsible for alleviating their circumstances, holding instead that populations that faced racial, societal or institutional headwinds required a strong community behind them. Others said their giving was a form of gratitude for their fortunate circumstances.

While just under 86% of these donors reported having given to political causes, they had reservations about doing so. Many said their political giving was limited compared to other causes, as their contributions were not as gratifying, given a selection of candidates and parties that often do not reflect their concerns or backgrounds. Recipients were largely, but not overwhelmingly Democrats (83%), although 10% of the donors said they made contributions to Republicans, 4% indicated they favored independents and the rest gave to “other” charitable political organizations.

Some of these donors have plans for future bequests in place: 30% have set up planned giving instruments such as endowment funds, provisions within wills or gift annuities that specify at least one charitable beneficiary. Despite this, very few said they had ever worked with professional giving advisors, relying instead on community foundations, donor-advised funds, giving circles and other pooled strategies.

The study authors estimate there are more than 1.3 million high net worth donors of color within the United States. If they reflect the sample interviewed, more than 80% have earned their wealth themselves, while less than 10% said they had inherited their money and 7% indicated their money came from marriage. Respondents were permitted to indicate more than one source of wealth. Many were first-generation wealth creators who were often from historically marginalized communities.

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