“We Are the Wealth We Are Looking For.” Yvonne Moore on Black Philanthropy, DAFs and More

Discover what led our Founder, Yvonne L. Moore, to launch Moore Philanthropy, her work with grassroots groups, how donor-advised funds can be better used by Black philanthropy, and how Black American philanthropy can connect with other parts of the African diaspora.

By Ade Adeniji | February 22, 2023
Inside Philanthropy

Yvonne Moore got her start in philanthropy in the late 1990s as a program associate and director. She went on to become the executive director of the Daphne Foundation in New York and chief of staff for Abigail Disney, where she oversaw the family’s network of media, philanthropic and advocacy organizations. But Moore has worn many hats over the years, and become an influential voice in the sector along the way.

In 2015, she founded Moore Philanthropy, a black-founded and women-led philanthropic advisory firm with several arms. Moore Advisory connects passionate, wealthy donors to solution-oriented changemakers. Moore Impact, a fiscal sponsor, works with donor collaboratives, giving circles, advocacy initiatives and urgent-response funds. The firm also offers donor-advised fund services. Combined, Moore Philanthropy supports major donors and corporations in their efforts to give equitably and inclusively, as well as serving the African diaspora and building the wealth and influence of communities of color.

We recently wrote about HERitage Giving Fund, one beneficiary of Moore Impact’s work and one of Texas’ first Black giving circles. HERitage currently awards one-year grants of up to $10,000 to organizations with budgets not exceeding $500,000. Tyeshia Wilson, chair of HERitage Giving Fund, recently gave us her thoughts about Black giving circles and the state of Black philanthropy.

We thought it would be interesting also to hear from Yvonne Moore about this space, as she is someone who has become an important player in the growing landscape of donors of color. In a recent conversation, we learned about the forces that inspired Moore to start her own advisory firm, her work with HERitage and other such organizations, how donor-advised funds can be better used by Black philanthropy, and even how Black American philanthropy can connect with other parts of the African diaspora.

Here are some excerpts from that conversation, which have been edited for length and clarity.

What was your entry into philanthropy? What were your goals when you came into the space?

It’s so funny, because I always like to hear these stories from other people. So I had been working in child protection advocacy and safety for my first 10 years out of undergrad. But it was very emotionally draining. So my question was, how do I actually figure out how to get money to people who do this work? Because I’m watching program officers and they’re exhausted. And I also started wanting to get on the front end of the law. Family law never really included children. So I went back to graduate school to understand nonprofit finance, management, advocacy and policy. I worked for the New York Police Foundation, and then a private family foundation while I was full-time in school. And then I settled on philanthropy and dug in — working with families and high-net-worth individuals. 

When did you decide to start Moore Philanthropy? And why?

I was chief of staff to Abigail Disney. I worked for the family for about 13 years. Everything really grew. I launched their international grantmaking program. Then I realized on a trip back from Liberia that I just wanted to focus on grantmaking. When I got off the plane, I started calling different colleagues, did some quiet market research, and started Moore Philanthropy to continue private advisory work I had been doing for about 20 years at that point, and lift up Black philanthropy.

At some point around 2020, I became frustrated with a private foundation I was working with. There are some folks who are actually incapable of letting go of power. So this is why I started Moore Impact. I wanted to just help awesome changemakers through fiscal sponsorship. I wanted to make sure that folks knew that there was someone in philanthropy with the experience, expertise and gravitas to create a home for donors and giving circles in an inclusive and thoughtful way. There is a failure on the part of some to enter this work in a relational manner that allows people to come to a space as fully themselves.

I wanted to try to figure out how we could really build wealth in our community. We need to understand our buying power, and the fact that we are the wealth that we are looking for. Then we can challenge those systems that say the opposite.

We host donor-advised funds so that Black folks and other donors of color have a place to put their money and invest back in the community with someone who understands, rather than at larger entities where they would have to explain those investments. So we want to challenge those larger institutions that have immediate access to stocks and bonds.

Who are the kinds of partners have you been able to court?

It’s been so exciting. We currently hold the Social Justice Fund for Warner Music Group/Blavatnik Family Foundation. They came to us when they launched this $100 million fund to invest in a more just and equitable community. It was quite the interview process. But the foundation chair and folks on the board told us they wanted to invest in us. They wanted to be catalytic in that space with us. It was game on. It’s our largest contract.

And that opened the door to places like Chanel Foundation and Corporation, who have been amazing partners. Chanel US has a racial justice fund and the work that they are doing is brilliant. And lastly, Pivotal Ventures, Melinda French Gates’ house. They’ve helped us in different ways. The Blavatnik family was the catalyst. Pivotal, meanwhile, has done investments in a way that has helped us level up. They’ve invested in us and trusted us to give away their money. 

What made you want to start working in the giving circle space in the first place?

Akira Barclay’s paper when she was a CUNY fellow, which examines community foundations and ways to build bridges between grassroots and institutional grantmakers. I have such a respect, particularly for how women come together. So many giving circles began with women. And they’re fulfilling a need that community or dominant culture is not filling. For me, it began with Black philanthropy. When I launched Moore Philanthropy, I wanted to make sure I lifted up Black philanthropy. We’re always seen as takers and recipients. But we are also huge donors. And we also give even if we can’t afford it.

Dominant culture always wants to relegate us to the time and talent category. But I want to make sure folks know we are giving all. So when we started Moore Philanthropy, we wanted to participate in Black Philanthropy Month, and partner with folks like Valaida Fulwood. I have colleagues in South Africa who write about Black giving, giving from the African diaspora. And they make a clear separation between institutional philanthropy and philanthropy. I learned philanthropy at home, from my parents, watching them volunteer, being made to volunteer. Every single Christmas morning, we were up at 6 a.m., because my grandmother was putting together trays of food.

What are you looking for in the leaders you partner with? Like Tyeshia Wilson at HERitage?

So HERitage, we support them as an organization. But they’re giving away the money. We try to support their back office. But they are brilliant in and of themselves. But under Pivotal Ventures, we’re supporting Power Champions Fund, where we have about 18 grantees. 100% of them are funding either Native or Black communities — Black folks and African diaspora, because that’s who we are, but also Native communities, Native-serving enterprises, because this land has been stripped from them since before we got there. So how do we actually partner with them, rather than just invest? If I’m honest, we’re kind of giving them their money back. A bulk of the organizations are women-led. And we stayed away from the East and West Coast and focused on the middle of the country: Colorado, the Dakotas, the South. There’s so much in the South that is still being left to the side.

Do you find Black philanthropy has a diasporic lens? Do you think it can better focus on this fuller vision of support, which includes places like Africa and the Caribbean?

Well, I try to stay plugged in on a global level. And I believe there is a big difference between those of us who think about and engage in philanthropy versus those who think only in terms of institutional philanthropy. And the African diaspora is everywhere, right? So celebrations are global. The way Valaida Fullwood and Jackie Bouvier Copeland of Black Philanthropy Month ensure we are celebrating at a global level, and all year long. We’ve been trying to grow a network of advisors from the African diaspora. Having conversations with different people is revealing how philanthropy is approached in different countries. I have a good friend, Thelma Ekiyor, who works as the managing director at SME.NG, a gender-focused investment platform in Nigeria. There’s also Bhekinkosi Moyo in South Africa, founder of the Center on African Philanthropy and Social Investment. These two and more are engaging in thoughtful and innovative philanthropy and investment, as well as chronicling the work of diaspora philanthropy and training up the next generation of educators and advisors.

How are you connecting Black donors to donor advised funds?

When you are talking about a person’s money, it’s very personal. A lot of it is word of mouth. A lot of it is preexisting relationships. I think the thing with DAFs is that it’s important for folks to know they have options. People need to be very clear about what DAFs can and can’t do. They’ve grown so much in the last 15 to 20 years or so. They are a behemoth. But somewhere along the way, donors got more mature than institutions holding those DAFs. I think donors want to do things differently. But some institutions have not kept up with that. We’ve been creating a worksheet that helps donors clearly understand DAFs. One thing you need to understand is that you are literally giving away your money to an institution. And sometimes, you cannot get it back. So you need to make sure you trust the DAF you align with and share their values.

What is your biggest hope now?

I was having a conversation about abundance not too long ago. Practically, I want folks to know what we’re doing and all the services we have available. A friend of mine would say “world domination.” But the second thing would be building a team and a culture that match the things we are talking about in the world. I want us to continue to grow in a way that does not violate our values of being in relationship with people. Whenever I talk about philanthropy, I think about the definition of philanthropy, which is love of humanity. One of the dreams I have is that folks would think about us when some sort of violent action hasn’t happened. Investing in Black organizations before another Black man dies. How do we get on the front end of social justice?