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IACG Member Spotlight: Stephanie Ellis-Smith and Christina Lewis, Give Blck

Stephanie Ellis-Smith and Christina Lewis are co-founders of Give Blck and members of the Initiative to Accelerate Charitable Giving.

Give Blck was officially launched in September of 2020 to give voice to 500+ Black-founded nonprofits and addresses racial equity in giving by offering a comprehensive database for donors to find and fund Black nonprofits. It began as a response to individuals seeking a way to support Black-owned businesses and Black organizations in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in May of 2020. Christina began the endeavor with a post on Instagram and simple spreadsheet that listed places that were in need of support. As the post gained more traction, she called Stephanie, knowing she was also deeply engaged in the sector, to see if she would be able to add to her growing list. Stephanie responded with a large collection of organizations she had been collecting on her own and Give Blck was born.

Give Blck exists to mobilize positive action for Black lives and advance racial equity in giving. We make it easier for people and companies to connect with and give to Black-led organizations they are passionate about by building the country’s first searchable, comprehensive database of Black-led nonprofit organizations. 

Given our involvement in philanthropy as non-profit founders and individual philanthropists, we are acutely aware that funding and investing in Black nonprofit organizations is a critical – yet often forgotten – piece to tackling systemic racism and inequality. Give Blck is designed to address this problem by calling attention to organizations and their leaders who are working on the frontlines of social change in addition to making it easier for donors to find and fund Black organizations. It was created because, according to donors, one of the primary challenges they face when seeking Black nonprofits to support is knowing where to find them. 

Our hope for Give Blck is nothing short of changing the culture of giving. It allows a greater share of philanthropic dollars to flow to organizations led by people who have not only the most experience and knowledge dealing with underserved communities, but also the most invested in those same communities. The goal is for Black nonprofits to have a steady and reliable source of income from which they can draw to do their work in the community. This is the type of targeted giving that can help to address racial disparities in philanthropy and make sure that the Black community gets a larger piece of the charitable pie.  

We have seen first-hand how structural issues in the philanthropic sector slow money getting to working charities and the out-sized impacts they have on communities of color. The lack of transparency of donor-advised funds makes it difficult for organizations to cultivate relationships with donors. Not to mention the fact that despite the hefty payouts during the pandemic, commercial DAFs are still sitting on billions of dollars that are already dedicated to the commonweal but sitting fallow instead. While these difficulties hit all organizations, the hit is disproportionally devastating to Black and BIPOC groups. Just last month–Black History Month–only four percent of the $450 billion dollars donated to charity went to organizations led by underrepresented minorities. 

We are proud to sign on to The Initiative to Accelerate Charitable Giving reforms because they address outdated provisions in the current tax structure and reforming these charitable giving laws is a crucial step towards achieving racial and economic equity in our sector. It is critical that we implement IACG’s reforms now because we are in a unique moment of awareness and openness to examine how business has been done in the past and how it may aid in nurturing inequality at a time when more people than ever around the world are motivated to make the rules work better for everyone.

If these proposals become law, there will be short and long-term benefits that would do much to invigorate and make our sector more equitable. In order to mitigate the effects of structural racism, we must be more deliberate with our philanthropic giving and intentional with regard to who we want to help. Casual, colorblind donations to organizations, believing that somehow everything will work itself out, will, at best, be ineffective as it pertains to dealing with preexisting racial disparities. But it is far more likely that the absence of race-consciousness in philanthropy will widen gaps that should be closing.