The Changing Face of Philanthropy

By Collison, Michele N-K | Black Issues in Higher Education, May 25, 2000 | Go to article overview

The Changing Face of Philanthropy


Collison, Michele N-K, Black Issues in Higher Education


The Changing Face of Philanthropy: Where the color line yields to the bottom line

ATLANTA -- Just before the winter holiday break, a group of 70 Black professionals gathered here at the Georgia Institute of Technology for a reception. They nibbled hors d'oeuvres and traded business cards and a jazz group played in the background. Even after the evening's main attraction -- a speech by Coca-Cola Co.'s Michael Bivins, education director of the soft-drink company's foundation -- people didn't bolt for the door.

This wasn't your average reception.

It was a sort of a coming-out party for Georgia Tech's first Black development directors -- Birgit Smith Burton, director of foundation relations, and James S. Simmons, director of corporate relations.

But it was also the first time Black professionals in development at Atlanta universities had gathered.

"A lot of people still think Georgia Tech is a White, male institution," says Smith Burton. "But the face of Georgia Tech is changing. We're the first African Americans at this level in institutional advancement. Blacks are becoming directors and it's making a statement. We're having more opportunity and proving our skills and talents."

But although many applaud their appointments, Black professionals say this scene is not likely to be repeated on too many college campuses. Although some Blacks are moving into senior positions in development at university foundations, the number of minorities in the development field is still small.

According to the National Society of Fund-Raising Executives, Blacks make up just under 2 percent of the organization's members, despite the fact that the organization has grown from 10,000 members to 22,000 in the last decade. The percentage of Hispanics (1.1 percent), Asians (0.4 percent) and Native Americans (also 0.4 percent) have all remained constant as the organization's headcount has increased in the last 10 years.

But with the rise in foundation and corporate giving to higher education -- American colleges and universities received a record $20.4 billion in private giving last year -- gift-seeking gigs have become more prominent.

Experts say that with colleges and universities having to rely more on their fund-raising arms as state allocations dwindle, there's more room than ever for fund-raisers of color to get into the game.

A Matter of Alarm

"The number of Blacks has not increased in proportion to the growth in the nonprofit world," says Alice Greene Burnett, a fundraising consultant who has completed a major study of Blacks in philanthropy for the Lilly Endowment and the Ford Foundation. "It's a matter of alarm."

The scarcity of Blacks comes at a time of unprecedented growth in the nonprofit sector. The number of nonprofit organizations jumped 43 percent, from 123,687 in 1989 to 177,604 in 1996, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.

America's booming economy and the technology revolution also have created Internet billionaires who are creating new foundations to give away some of their wealth. The nonprofit and foundation sector now employs 10.2 million people, making up almost 7 percent of the U.S. workforce.

In addition, as demographics indicate that the nation's workforce will increasingly include people of color, officials in the nonprofit industry now realize they must take steps to ensure that their ranks include more members of minority groups.

The growth in the nonprofit sector has been accompanied by a huge demand for employees, especially fund-raisers. Universities especially have grown increasingly reliant on private giving and have an insatiable appetite for experienced fund-raisers.

And the pay is not shabby. The average salary for a university fund-raiser in 1999 was $60,000, according to the fund-raising society.

"There are no fund-raisers looking for jobs," says Dr. Sara Melendez, president of the Independent Sector, a coalition of foundations, nonprofits and corporate giving programs. …

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