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Black Philanthropy Initiative makes first grants

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Brenda Diggs

Brenda Diggs

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Nine years ago, a group of African-American leaders in Winston-Salem got together to talk about how to spur more charitable giving from the black community.

While they generally did not see themselves as philanthropists, and believed philanthropy was limited mainly to big gifts from older, rich white men, blacks “are part of a rare class of folks that are really staunch philanthropists” who give mainly to their churches, says Brenda Diggs, a 35-year veteran of Wachovia who retired in 2003.

Diggs was part of the group of black leaders who, based on those talks in 2000, helped form the Black Philanthropy Initiative at the Winston-Salem Foundation.

“There was a need to really help identify in the minds of the African-American community what black philanthropy — or just philanthropy, period — is,” says Diggs, who now chairs the initiative.

After years of identifying blacks, many of whom were not mainstream leaders or givers, and educating the black community that anyone can give and that gifts of all sizes can make a difference, the initiative has made its first grants.

The initiative has raised over $60,000 since its started fundraising two years ago, and this month announced five grants totaling $5,000 each to groups that support African Americans in the area of education.

Funds were raised through a mail appeal and visits by initiative members to prospective givers.

The total raised includes $11,000 from the Winston-Salem Foundation, which agreed to give $1 for every $4 the effort raised.

Many gifts were small, typically ranging from $50 to $100, and one anonymous donor gave $20,000.

And while members of the initiative would like to have raised more, Diggs says, she and others believed it was important to start making grants now.

“There is nothing like cementing the idea by putting some action out there,” she says.

And she says she hopes publicity about the grants will help spread the word about the effort and generate more giving by blacks.

Diggs says 15 to 20 groups submitted grant applications, which a grants committee of the board of the Black Philanthropy Initiative reviewed.

Groups receiving the initial grants, and their plans, include:

* Family Services Inc., for a new extended-day program for pre-school kids that will focus on match and science.

* Forsyth Technical Community College, for a program to improve the retention and graduation rate of minority males at the school.

* North Forsyth High School, to buy 41 graphing calculators to be awarded to student athletes who improve their math grades through required tutoring.

* Quality Education Academy, for an after-school program that focuses on students ages 13 to 17 in Forsyth County and surrounding areas who show signs of being at risk of dropping out of high school.

* YWCA of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, to buy an academic-skills software program for an after-school and summer program designed to enhance students’ academic performance.

In addition to using those grants to promote the initiative, Diggs says, it will continue to recruit new members, send another mail appeal later this year and hold another round of grantmaking.

Michael Clements, vice president for community investment at the Winston-Salem Foundation, says the initiative is considering several new strategies to generate more giving from African Americans and, perhaps more importantly, to help them feel more involved in giving.

Those strategies might include “giving circles” in which givers pool their funds, often modest, and make grants decision together.

The initiative also is considering borrowing tactics used by Barack Obama in his presidential campaign, including social media and email appeals that let people make small gifts and still feel they were making a difference.

Diggs says every gift matters.

“There is a huge opportunity with folks who have money or who have the desire to give,” she says, “but have a misconception that you’ve got to be rich.”

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