By Mel and Pearl Shaw

Here’s a stereotype to bust: Philanthropy is about large gifts from the rich and the powerful who give to organizations and institutions that serve those in need. Here’s an expanded definition: philanthropy includes everyday African Americans who give freely of their treasure.

So much of African American philanthropy is impactful, but unrecorded. We have a history of digging deep and calling on each other for the good of our community. Ever since we landed on these shores that’s what we have done. It’s part of our DNA, though rarely recorded.

Our philanthropy is a rite of passage. It arises out of necessity. It empowers us to address needs within our community. It also gives us an independence. It’s how we survived for decades after the end of slavery and through to modern times: being able to share our resources, our knowledge, and our treasure.

We would not enjoy the quality of life that we do without the traditions of philanthropy within our community. Those traditions still stand today. For most of us, the quality and character of our lives are measured by our philanthropy: by how we advocate, share, mobilize, and volunteer so we can upgrade the quality of life in our community.

This Christmas we were given a most beautiful book – Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists. It was created by the members of New Generation of African American Philanthropists – a giving circle in Charlotte, NC that is hosted by the Foundation for The Carolinas. The book includes photos, stories, tributes, quotes, statistics and poetry. The author is Valaida Fullwood and the photographer is Charles W. Thomas Jr.

At its core this remarkable book reminds readers “We have always been philanthropists.” Giving back reframes, redefines and re-imagines philanthropy from an African -American perspective, placing African -Americans at the center as donors, caregivers, social change agents, and generous souls. The photos and tributes highlight church members, neighbors, family members and others who have touched the lives of individuals and communities. It records everyday African-American philanthropy.

While we give in unrecorded ways, we are also on record for giving a high percentage of our incomes. According to a 2012 report from the Kellogg Foundation, “almost two-thirds of black households make charitable donations, giving 25 percent more of their income than whites. About $11-billion [in giving] comes from black donors…” That’s a lot of money.

When we change the images we hold in our minds, we are empowered to grow the tradition of African-American philanthropy and adapt it to the changing needs of our community. Working together we can be more creative, more resourceful, and more powerful in our numbers. Our history has shown that our power is in our collective giving. Continue your individual giving, and take time to give collectively and strategically.

For suggestions on how to increase your impact as a fundraiser or nonprofit board member visit