What Does Philanthropy Sound Like, Part Two: Hearing from Donors of Color

Isabelle Leighton

When you think of the word philanthropy, what images come to mind? A building? Stacks of money? Grant checks? Board rooms? Who sits in those places of power?

While conducting in-depth interviews with more than 100 high-net-worth donors of color for the qualitative research report, “Philanthropy Always Sounds Like Someone Else: A Portrait of High Net Wealth Donors of Color,” (read the Portrait Report), we learned about giving practices that defied mainstream narratives about philanthropy.

In part one of this series, we shared insight into the experiences of donors of color and advice to the philanthropic sector based on these interviews. However, we also wanted to share the voices of these donors themselves. So, we asked two donors of color interviewed for the Portrait Report to share what philanthropy is to them and what it means to be a donor, as well as insight into their experience with philanthropy and advice to fellow donors.

“To be a human meant to give.”

Donor Courtney Bass Sherizen, director of people operations at Google, shares that, to her, philanthropy is finding intentional, thoughtful ways to show up for communities, and her strong belief that giving is not optional, and not something to be done only later in life. She expresses her wish that other donors would be more open to giving in ways that truly centers the recipient, rather than the donor. Hear directly from Courtney in the audio clip below: 

“Philanthropy, ultimately, is about love.”

Executive Director of the Masto Foundation, A. Sparks (she/they), notes the power of philanthropy to not only strengthen communities but to connect history and ancestry with investments in the future, and wishes that she could tell her younger self not to shy away from having wealth but to recognize it as an incredible opportunity to make change and open doors for others. She encourages donors to push themselves and go into spaces that may make them uncomfortable, to listen, and to step outside of the white dominant culture that has long dominated philanthropy and embrace the growth and learning involved in that discomfort. Hear directly from Sparks in the audio clip below:

About the donors:

Isabelle H. Leighton is executive director of the Donors of Color Network. She has been organizing and strategizing in multiracial movement-oriented spaces for two decades. Find Isabelle on LinkedIn.

donors of color, individual donors, role of philanthropy
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