Why Black-led Models Work: How Black donor advisors are shaking up institutional philanthropy

Africans in the Diaspora (AiD) is a network of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora that pools financial resources, knowledge and skills to support the work of climate justice, food sovereignty, and alternative economics movements on the continent. In their latest edition of AiD Magazine, our Founder and Managing Director Yvonne L. Moore discusses the inequities within charitable giving and ways people can invest in causes most meaningful to them.

Why Black-led Models Work:

How Black donor advisors are shaking up institutional philanthropy
In conversation with Derek Bardowell and Yvonne Moore

Institutional philanthropy fails Africa, Africans, Afrodescendents, and Black people every day.

In 2017, the vast majority of the nearly seven billion dollars that was spent as grants from foundations and bilateral and multilateral institutions was spent in North America and Western Europe. Just a quarter of it flowed into Asia and the Pacific, the Caribbean, Central and South America, the Middle East, and Africa combined. And not much has changed since then. Last year, the Black Feminist Fund released research evidencing that only 0.1% of the world’s philanthropic money goes to Black feminist activists.

Every day, institutional philanthropy fails us. But we don’t fail ourselves. From crowdfunders for students stranded in Ukraine, to the $714 billion USD sent by folks in the diaspora to relatives in their home countries in 2019 – we know how to take care of our communities.

Many Africans, Afrodescendents, and Black people learn their own sense of philanthropy at home. Whether through eating communal lunches out of the same bowl, sharing gifts with siblings and cousins, or making every inch of bed space count when relatives are visiting, practices of generosity and care are often learned in childhood. Underpinning so many African and Afrodescendent cultures is a fundamental understanding that the line between ‘mine’ and ‘ours’ is wide, blurry, and often irrelevant.

However, Africans and diasporans who are looking to redistribute their wealth in the ways they learned to at home too often find that the world of donor advice was not built for this – nor for them.

Yvonne Moore and Derek A. Bardowell are two people who have seen firsthand how we’ve been treated by the world of donor advice. Yvonne has worked in the government, civil society, and in philanthropic sectors and is currently the Founder and Managing Director of Moore Philanthropy. Derek is a writer and CEO of the philanthropic advocacy organisation Ten Years’ Time. He has been responsible for managing over £150 million GBP to good causes in 34 countries .

With over 30 years in the philanthropic sector between them, Derek and Yvonne were the perfect people to help us dive into a deeper understanding of what is going on in the sector.

What does the word philanthropy mean to you?

Yvonne Moore: The pure definition of philanthropy is love of humanity. As a person of faith, I take that literally when I do my work, and try to navigate spaces and conversations with that in mind. How do you love folks? How do you interact with and treat folks? Do you allow folks to come into your spaces as they are, bringing their full selves – and their work – into authentic conversation?

Derek Bardowell: I think I always separate philanthropy as an institution from philanthropy as a practice. So when you think of it as a practice, the practice is about what people give within their communities. People of color in philanthropy, what has made them really good at their work is not that they have integrated into the system, but the fact that they have fought against it. They’ve gone back to some of the instincts that they’ve had from their communities and actually try to implement and inject that into what is a very extractive, paternalistic system.

So in your work, how do you see the institution of philanthropy creating problems for donors of African descent who want to give? What barriers might they face?

YM: Typical philanthropic advisors in the United States are not intentionally trying to track donors from the African diaspora. There have been instances where a very famous artist who is almost a billionaire was – I can’t say dismissed – but there definitely was not active follow up from the advisory firm that his folks went to. One of my colleagues thinks that they don’t do more because they think that Black donors can’t pay their fees. There’s this assumption, this myth, that Black folks don’t have wealth. Talking to a donor right after the George Floyd murder. He was like, “they don’t even have any ideas for me. They can’t assist me.” Donors have gotten more mature than the financial institutions where they hold their money – because they’re actually trying to do more. But if they don’t have the folks around them that can actually advise them, then you’re stuck. You’re there until you find out you have other options.

Do they find other options? Are there examples of donors cutting through that?

DB: In Britain, most of the independent foundations give away less than 5% of their wealth. Last year, of all the people that gave away over a million pounds in charitable donations [Black British footballer] Marcus Rashford gave a higher percentage of his wealth than anyone else in the country. He was
exemplary. Yeah, he’s a millionaire, he’s got lots of money, but he is not one of the richest people in the country. He’s nowhere near one of the richest people in the country and he still gave away a higher percentage.

What are the structural issues at play here? Why is money not effectively moving through those institutions which should be redistributing individual wealth?

DB: Every single person that’s surrounding a person with wealth – wealth advisors, lawyers, solicitors – their sole purpose is to: a) preserve their wealth, b) to retain their services. This doesn’t matter whether it’s a Black donor or a white donor. They are still surrounded by a whole bunch of people that want to have their services forever and ever and also want to preserve their wealth. By continuing to preserve or grow income for donors, advisors can retain the donor’s services, which means that there really isn’t an economic incentive for those surrounding donors to give money to good causes. So you are always battling this system of preservation and client retention as the model.

YM: Many wealth advisors whose job is to protect wealth through sage and sustainable investment act as
though they’re philanthropic advisors whose job it is to redistribute wealth to meaningful causes. It’s really super irritating because there’s a difference between these two sectors in motivation and intent. Wealth advisors are there to preserve your wealth. So they’re not going to tell their client: “you know what, spend some more of this money, spend more and give more.” Right? So there’s an inherent conflict.

So how can donors be supported to move substantial proportions of their money?

DB: At my organisation, Ten Years Time, we take philanthropists on a learning journey of honest reflection and radical action. So we are challenging people not just to give away money in a better way, but also to really interrogate their wealth and philanthropic practices, and what they should do to challenge that, that culture of preservation.

YM: One of the reasons that we launched Moore Philanthropy is we, as Black people,
do give, we are donors. We are not only receivers.

DB: I think that is really important – demonstrating what philanthropy as a practice looks like, because it’s not about rich people giving money to the poor.

YM: Right. You don’t have to be wealthy to want to give – again, we’re already doing this. That’s one of the things that we’re doing: allowing people to set up their donor-advised fund. If you want to build a legacy with your family, your children, we have a minimum when we start giving, which is five thousand US dollars, but it
doesn’t mean you can’t open an account with us. We have an account where you can actually just start saving and putting your money in there and when it gets to five thousand, then you can start giving. If you want to have a more structured way of doing this, work with your family or friends – it’s kind of similar to a giving circle. We hold a couple of giving circles as well, and we just allow people to come, however they want. If you’re trying to do good philanthropy, thoughtful philanthropy, you’re trying to engage
friends, family, and kids. Come as you are.

Read the full issue of AiD Magazine here.