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Our Seat at the Table: Power Moves and the Gift of Influence

By Quinetha Frasier

As I turned the pages of the United Way’s Annual Report of its’ top donors, I was floored. How could the largest funder in the city not have the support of the Black American community? Among the thousands of donors, there were literally two photos of African-American families included as Leadership Donors; donating $1,000 or more.

I personally knew a number of black families in the city who were very philanthropic and had the means to donate $1,000 or more. At the time, I had been a fundraiser and consultant to grantmakers for 15 years. I quickly estimated that there were two possible reasons why there was a dearth of diversity among their donors:

1. There was no intentional outreach or request to the black community for support,

2. Black professionals didn’t see the United Way as a charity that was connected to what they cared about.

At the time, I was a senior fundraiser at that United Way and I was determined to solve both issues. First, I knew that I could muster the internal support to design an internal strategy to identify and attract more African Americans to the organization. Secondly, as an African-American professional and native with a strong network of mentors and colleagues, it would be easy to gain an audience and clarify the opportunities that existed between the United Way and the African-American community-at-large. 

With the approval and encouragement of my manager, I researched other African-American philanthropic groups across the United States and designed an ‘African American Affinity Group’. We launched with 75 professionals at the table, pledging their support as Leadership Donors. The mission of the group was to harness the philanthropic goals of African-American professionals who cared about the community; and to collectively raise $2 million to support the United Way’s work in Education.

We had a lot to learn about the process of leveraging your philanthropic dollar. We had to educate both the local United Way and the larger community why focusing our philanthropic power was the right thing to do.

Here are a few lessons we learned about leverage in philanthropy:

1. The Golden Rule is real: Whoever mines the gold makes the rules. Many of the programs, projects and innovation that our community needs-and currently have- are made possible by way of charitable funding. This money typically comes from individuals (donor) or grantmaking institutions, like the United Way. These funders become active participants, who influence how support ‘shows up’ and is distributed in our community.


2. We have to be “in the room”: There is no way that our voice can be represented unless we have a seat at the table. Unfortunately, it is typical to have groups of individuals making decisions about communities where they have no connectivity nor lived experience as a resident. Trust me, this influences the way that Programs are designed and delivered to children, seniors, and families in under-resourced communities.  


3. Talk is cheap, we have to “pay to play”: In philanthropy, if you feel strongly about a cause, your donation is one ticket to be invited to add your ‘two cents’ to the conversation. The level of giving or size of gift, can influence the level of engagement that one will receive from funders. Nothing personal, this is just a reality of donor stewardship.


These and other valuable lessons helped to guide 75-plus African-American professionals towards raising $85,000 in the first month. They were able to offer their new funding partner, the local United Way, our dollars, ideas, and decisions in exchange for a seat at the decision-making table.


If you give to your neighborhood school, religious organization, or in response to a national crisis, YOU are a philanthropist. Use technology (social media, Customer Relationship Management tools, etc.) as a vehicle to bring more transparency and accountability to your community’s giving. Make your gifts count by using it as leverage to be invited to “the room,” where program decisions are made. AT


Quinetha Frasier is an expert non-profit funding strategist and CEO of a pledge automation software company and Nonprofit Management Consulting firm, Social Impact Technology.

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