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A little girl smiles as she holds her arms out while wearing a mask over her eyes and a cape. Next to her, a quote says: “It makes a huge difference when you empower communities to work on solving their own problems.” — Sharmain Matlock-Turner, president and CEO, Urban Affairs Coalition
A little girl smiles as she holds her arms out while wearing a mask over her eyes and a cape. Next to her, a quote says: “It makes a huge difference when you empower communities to work on solving their own problems.” — Sharmain Matlock-Turner, president and CEO, Urban Affairs Coalition
Volunteering & Giving
February 18, 2021

Adding an equity lens to personal charitable giving and service

Wells Fargo’s Team Member Philanthropy team is putting a spotlight on charities the company supports and providing tips for adding an equity lens to personal charitable giving.

As the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in job losses, food insecurity, and health care disparities, people opened their wallets and shared their time to support charities and their communities. When George Floyd was killed in May 2020, people continued to look for ways to give and serve, particularly in an effort to combat racial inequities.

“Revenue drives everything, so when the economy is affected or when racism is in play, Black, brown, minority, and low-income people and organizations suffer the most,” said Nancy Flake Johnson, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta, which focuses on closing the racial, economic, and social justice gaps faced by African Americans and other low- to moderate-income communities.

“In this time of COVID, in the year of the killing of George Floyd, the realities of racial bias have been in your face because of technology and the media. It has shocked and moved so many. For all of the negativity and the loss of George Floyd’s and so many others’ lives, the one consolation is that their sacrifice won’t be in vain. Their lives lost have been the catalyst to let people everywhere know we really care, this can’t be.”

“Adding an equity lens requires that inward examination of what you want to accomplish with your philanthropy, as well as a dialogue and conversation about challenging topics, so I’d encourage people to get comfortable with being uncomfortable." — Beth Renner, head of the Advice Center within Wells Fargo’s Advice and Planning Center of Excellence

However, the revenues of Black-led organizations are on average 24% smaller than the revenues of white-led organizations, according to research last year by the nonprofits Echoing Green and The Bridgespan Group. A report by the Center for Civic Innovation last year also showed that, of the $18.2 million awarded from the Greater Atlanta COVID-19 Response and Relief Fund, 96% of the grantees stated that their work included a focus on Black communities, but 74% of the funding went to white-led organizations.

“We thought there might be disparities, but when the report came out that showed gifts for African American-led organizations were a third of the average gift of a white-led nonprofit, that hits you, especially when you think about equity,” Flake Johnson said.

Wells Fargo’s Team Member Philanthropy team is sharing information about and working to overcome these disparities by putting a spotlight on charities the company supports, like the Urban League of Greater Atlanta and the Urban Affairs Coalition in Philadelphia, local charities by region, and providing tips (PDF) for adding an equity lens to personal charitable giving.

It’s a topic that clients of Wells Fargo’s Advice and Planning Center of Excellence have been asking about, said Beth Renner, head of the Advice Center. The center has subject matter experts for areas including philanthropy to support advisors so they can help their clients make better financial decisions.

“Adding an equity lens requires that inward examination of what you want to accomplish with your philanthropy, as well as a dialogue and conversation about challenging topics, so I’d encourage people to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Renner said.

‘There’s no knowledge of what is happening’

Today’s times may feel similar to the Urban Affairs Coalition’s founding in 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., when people from the community, government, and businesses in Philadelphia, including Wells Fargo’s predecessor bank, joined to drive change, said Sharmain Matlock-Turner, president and CEO of the organization.

The Urban Affairs Coalition works with nonprofits of all sizes to improve the quality of life through sponsorships, shared services, program development, and capacity building, but there are still challenges it and other charities led by people of color face. Not only do they receive less revenue, but more strings are usually attached to that funding, even with leaders from the same educational backgrounds as their white-led counterparts, Matlock-Turner said.

“It has to do with traditional segregation and separation of many of us by class, by community, but it also is about a sense that there’s no knowledge of what is happening and how many organizations are available and doing really terrific work in communities,” Matlock-Turner said. “If you take a look at the foundation community, they tended to give dollars to organizations that they knew or created those foundations with their family members or people who were of their class, and it is wonderful, but it meant those who were wealthy controlled the money and how it was distributed.”

Another challenge that charities led by people of color face is the lack of diversity among board members. According to a 2020 report by Exponent Philanthropy, 74% of participating foundations had no board members of color, and 78% had no staff members of color. This issue is something both Urban Affairs Coalition and the Urban League are aware of and are working on.

“If you’re talking about improving educational outcomes in communities of color, you can’t do that without involving the people who are actually living in those communities, who really understand the problem and also have some great ideas,” Matlock-Turner said.

Three images show a young man standing beside a woman in front of a display as they talk, a young man standing beside a woman as they smile, and a young woman standing beside a woman as they smile ahead.
The Urban Affairs Coalition, which started in 1968, is led by Sharmain Matlock-Turner and works with nonprofits of all sizes to improve the quality of life through sponsorships, shared services, program development, and capacity building.
Photo: Urban Affairs Coalition

How to help

When it comes to adding an equity lens to personal charitable giving and service, Renner, Flake Johnson, and Matlock-Turner recommend looking at causes you want to support and understanding the work charities, especially ones led by or serving people of color, do and the challenges they face. Then try to engage with them through volunteerism, board service, advocacy, and renewable giving.

“A lot of people say, ‘I’m giving. I’m giving,’ but we know that, unfortunately, we are not as connected as a country, as citizens, and communities as we should be,” Matlock-Turner said. “We don’t often go to the same churches or live in the same places or go to the same schools. Take a look at if you’re just giving in your world, and can you expand that world and network, both as a volunteer and as a donor? Make the change. Make the difference.”

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