The Sweetest Thing


I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver. — Maya Angelou

April 4th is Maya Angelou’s birthday. Values espoused in her writing inspired me to join with Tracey Webb and Akira Barclay to write The Sweetness of Circles. Like me, Tracey and Akira are chroniclers and members of giving circles. Our collaborative piece was initially posted on Medium and then later picked up by The Charlotte Post and The Nonprofit Quarterly.

I also was motivated to write a parallel and more personal piece, titled The Blacker The Circle, which ran on last week. It is an op-ed about my giving circle, New Generation of African American Philanthropists. Today, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) posted the op-ed on its blog.

Members of Charlotte’s New Generation of African American Philanthropists over the years.

AAWGT Presents: The Emerging Face of 21st Century Philanthropy

Looking forward to this community forum coming up in Annapolis!AAWGT FINAL Invite jpg

‘The Soul of Philanthropy’ Comes Alive in Denver This Weekend

Below are excerpts from “’The Soul of Philanthropy’ exhibit celebrates African-American giving” by Laura Bond for The Denver Foundation.

Dora's handsThe Denver Foundation and Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library are honored to co-host “The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited,” a photographic and narrative exploration of African American giving, which runs August 1-31 at the library, 2401 Welton Street, in Denver’s historic Five Points neighborhood.

Denver is one of only ten cities to host “The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited,” which explores the triumphant movement of conscious giving for social change, shared through photos and words of African American philanthropists, with a special addition of Denver notables. Groundbreaking in focus and depth, the exhibition draws evocative images and incisive stories from the award-winning book Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists, by Valaida Fullwood and photographer Charles W. Thomas Jr.

“This exhibit is a window into African American giving…While the photos may be black and white, the culture and history of philanthropy in the African American community is a vibrant collage of individual, collective, and strategic giving which impacts and elevates our community. It’s got heart all over it. This is certainly a ‘reframed image’ of what is stereotypically depicted of philanthropy in communities of color. This exhibit is sure to spur conversations, connections, and ideas which the The Denver Foundation looks forward to potentially supporting.”

— LaDawn Sullivan, Director of Community Leadership, The Denver Foundation

Exhibit sponsors are The Denver Foundation, Institute of Museum and Library Services, NGAAP Charlotte, Blair Caldwell Branch – Denver Public Library, Denver African American Philanthropists (DAAP), Denver (CO) Chapter of The Links, Inc., and Sisterhood of Philanthropists Impacting Needs (SPIN).

Event host committee members are Eula and Janet Adams, Councilman Albus Brooks, Linda Campbell, Richela Das, Chrissy Deal, Myra Donovan, MaryAnn Franklin, Barbara Grogan, Eddie and Andria Koen, and Rich Lopez.

Click here to read more from this article.

Go Far and Together

Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

Giving circles are growing in popularity, as indicated by this story in The New York Times…and this one from The Foundation Center…and this one from The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

That’s why I’m energized about the upcoming panel discussion that my giving circle and the Gantt Center are co-hosting on National Philanthropy Day (November 15). It’s free and open to the public, so if you’re in the Charlotte or would like to swing through, I encourage you to come. But first, R.S.V.P.

Eric Frazier, writer for The Charlotte Observer and The Chronicle of Philanthropy, is moderator for this week’s panel discussion on giving circles and collective giving, which is part of a Black Philanthropy series. The panelists are friends and fellow members of Community Investment NetworkLinsey Mills and Michelle Serrano Mills of Next Generation of African American Philanthropists; Barron J. Damon of A Legacy of Tradition; and Diatra FullwoodRenee Bradford and Ed Franklin of New Generation of African American Philanthropists.

Learn more about the event on BGB and then come participate on November 15!

If you want to go fast, go alone. 
If you want to go far, go together.
African proverb

Global Fellowship


Current members of the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society’s Emerging Leaders International Fellows Program

Feeling immense thanks to fellow BGB contributor Akira Barclay for this email message and photo, which made my day.

Hi Valaida!

I hope you are well. I just wanted to share how Giving Back is reaching an exciting audience and making an impact on how we learn and practice philanthropy.

As you may know, I completed the 2012 Emerging Leaders International Fellows Program last year where my research project “The Value of Giving Circles in the Evolution of Community Philanthropy” referenced Giving Back. During the presentation of my research, I showed my copy of Giving Back and my peer Fellows and the Program administrators were very impressed.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak with the new cohort of Fellows about collective giving and giving circles. I thought it was the perfect time to present my gift copy of Giving Back (the one you signed). Needless to say, Barbara Leopold, Director of the International Fellows Program was delighted.

Attached is a photo of Barbara and the Emerging Leaders Fellows who have come to New York from across the globe to study community foundations and diaspora philanthropy.




License…Poetic, Philanthropic and Otherwise


Gave away my soul.
Giving back to get it back.
Given what I know.

Ava Wood

Today is the last day of National Poetry Month and year-round I love sharing bits of poetry that were inked for Giving Back, hence the haiku above. After considerable consternation, I granted myself license while writing Giving Back to begin exploring and eventually exhibiting my poetic sensibilities. The experience has been liberating and, at times, disorienting. Stepping out of your comfort zone and eschewing safety nets can be just as scary as it sounds. Nevertheless, I have chosen the high-wire act of expressing myself more freely as a writer, as a poet, as a public speaker and in various facets of my life. Some might call these acts, self-determination.

I have learned that setting inflexible frames about how things are “supposed to be” based on others’ rules and measures is limiting. As is clutching too tight to the unessential. These and a string of other epiphanies are revealed in my recent TEDx Talk, A Picture Reframed.license 

One week ago, a story on—the online version of EBONY Magazine—re-stirred my thinking about the concept of self-determination and the word license.

‘Young Black Philanthropist’ Is Not an Oxymoron is a piece written by Ebonie Johnson Cooper, a thought leader on African American millennial giving and civic engagement. In her story, Ebonie recounts an unexpected conversation that left her troubled, momentarily. It was one in which a woman questioned broad application of the word philanthropist and chastised use of the term for givers deemed of average or modest means. Philanthropy as exclusive domain for the wealthy is, alas, a still widely held belief.

Etymologically, philanthropy is about love. Ironically, most folks believe it’s only about money. The word is derived from philos, Greek for “loving” in the sense of benefiting, caring for, nourishing. So rather than bastardizing a word, as suggested by Ebonie’s inquisitor, we are in fact reclaiming the word and returning it to its root meaning—love. Philanthropy literally means “love of humanity,” as in caring about what it is to be human.

As Ebonie found out, work in the field of philanthropy often brings one in proximity to a preponderance of people who exhibit a pronounced preoccupation with all things pecuniary and of position, power and privilege. Peculiar perhaps, but in the realm of endowments and grantmaking there are those who behave as if endowed with super-human power and thus proceed passionately as grantors of status, licensors of labels, keepers of community gates and authorizers of civic value.

Convoluted social constructs and hierarchies, in the name of philanthropy, do not warrant investment. For me, philanthropy encompasses simpler kinds of kindness, generic acts of generosity and humility amidst concern for humanity—all the while being no less thoughtful, strategic or transformative. Love is plain, yet potent that way.

Ebonie and I and others are part of a new generation of philanthropists that spans generations, race, class, position, income and wealth. It includes members of Community Investment Network who are giving, collectively, through giving circles. It includes Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, author of Giving 2.0, a book that makes a case about the future of philanthropy and how “individuals of every age and income level can harness the power of technology, collaboration, innovation, advocacy, and social entrepreneurship to take their giving to the next level and beyond.” It includes Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy (AAPIP) which is “building democratic philanthropy.” And it can include you.

Ebonie made the case this way in her story:

“The more mirrors we see of ourselves as grassroots organizers, board members, and financial donors, the more we will be able to accept our place as modern-day philanthropists who look into our own communities and define for ourselves who we are and what needs to be done. If we don’t, someone else certainly will.”

True. Case in point, absent from tables in U.S. philanthropy are a representative share of African Americans, because we co-sign and are thus co-opted by a corrupted translation of philanthropist. As a community, African Americans have yet to tap our fullest power by determining ourselves assets within our communities, vital players in ending inequities and, yes, philanthropists. While we are free to claim ourselves philanthropists, ultimately the label is unimportant. It is care-full work, sustained generosity and a love of people that characterize a philanthropist.

Haiku introduces this piece and the poet shares what she’s come to know, the hard way. I am hopeful that we all will soon come to know the power of loving, understanding and respecting what it means to be human. At its essence, philanthropy requires no license, labels or limits.

— VF

Books for Back-to-School Reading from Philanthropy 2173

Lucy Bernholz reviews Giving Back on her blog PHILANTHROPY 2173:

“Another resource is Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists by Valaida Fullwood. This beautiful book—that reminds us of the power of photographs and the truly human element of philanthropy—is one result of many years of giving circle work supported by The Ford Foundation, Knight Foundation, Foundation for the Carolinas and dozens of individual and other institutional funders. This is the kind of book I will go back to time and again. The people profiled are as generous in sharing their stories as they are in sharing the time and treasure. Collectively, the stories remind us of the role that mutual support and community play in philanthropy, the importance of faith traditions, and the pure joy that philanthropy can bring. Like Giving 2.o, Giving Back refocuses our attention onto the hundreds of millions of givers who are the real engines of philanthropy.”

Researcher and blogger Lucy Bernholz is a “philanthropy wonk” who analyzes the industry and philanthropic strategy. PHILANTHROPY 2173: The Business of Giving was named a Fast Company magazine “Best Blog” and a Huffington Post “Philanthropy Game Changer.”