Giving Black: New study explores legacy, power and potential of black philanthropy in Cincinnati

'Black philanthropy matters'
Posted at 4:00 PM, Dec 06, 2018

CINCINNATI — Local nonprofit organizations have commissioned extensive research to shine light on Greater Cincinnati’s racial divide.

A new study released Thursday by The Greater Cincinnati Foundation underscores another important truth:

Black people in the Tri-State have a long and proud history of giving give back to the community through donations of money and volunteer hours.

“Changing the narrative is very important,” said Bithiah Carter, president and CEO of NEBiP, which conducted the study with The Greater Cincinnati Foundation. “We have to shift the paradigm from focusing on our deficits to focusing on our assets. How do we shift the narrative that we are not just a community of bad reports?”

Bithiah Carter

The study, called “Giving Black: Cincinnati, A Portrait of Black Resistance and Stewardship,” aims to paint a picture of the “opportunities and constraints” that impact black philanthropic giving here and offers a history lesson on the origins of black philanthropy in Cincinnati dating back to before the Civil War.

“Good black news is hard to find,” Carter said. “There are very few stories about the strength of this community, the resiliency of this community, how this community resists.”

The Greater Cincinnati Foundation views the study as a “gift” to Greater Cincinnati that will help the community build upon the recently released All-In Cincinnati report, said Robert Killins Jr., the foundation’s director of special initiatives.

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“All-In set the stage,” Killins said. "'Giving Black' can say through the pooling of resources, through the use of organized philanthropy, we can start to tackle some of those (deficits). So we hope people will feel inspired."

That inspiration could include the formation giving circles and other philanthropic mechanisms to help fund the recommendations of the “All-In” report, he said. Carter stressed that’s the kind of work that will make the community better for everyone.

Key findings

The study, which was released at a Dec. 6 event at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, noted that nearly $10 million in black philanthropic dollars in Cincinnati are held at foundations and other charitable institutions as "assets under management."

Researchers surveyed nearly 400 respondents in Greater Cincinnati who identified themselves as being of African descent. They found:

• Only 11 percent of black donors said they believed Cincinnati is "a place of economic opportunity" for blacks to thrive.

• Black donors with a net worth of $120,000 or more listed issues of economics and segregation as critical issues for blacks in Cincinnati. Donors with incomes lower than $80,000 per year listed education and employment as top issues.

• Roughly 91 percent of black donors surveyed that in addition to giving money to causes, they also volunteer their time.

‘Black philanthropy matters’

The study also details how black philanthropic giving is perceived and acted upon and dispels some stereotypes along the way.

There is a common misperception, for example, that black people give only to religious or educational organizations. The study found that giving goes far beyond that, Killins noted.

“Our goal was not only to highlight the strength of black philanthropy but also use it as a tool to democratize philanthropy,” Carter said. “By undervaluing and overlooking black philanthropy, I think it leads to the undervaluing and overlooking of black leadership.”

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation helped fund the study as part of the foundation’s work to build “philanthropists of color within communities of color and for communities of color,” said Arelis Diaz, director of the foundation’s office of the president.

Robert Killins Jr.

“This report is important because it lifts up the fact that often times even community foundations or certain foundations see a certain face to a philanthropist and a different community that they’re actually giving to,” Diaz said. “The asset base has to stir.”

Killins said the study’s findings would help change the way The Greater Cincinnati Foundation does business, too.

“Having the data will, I think, allow us to be more refined in our approach, more targeted in our approach, more sophisticated,” he said. “We think it will just strengthen what we’re doing to make the community more equitable for us all.”

Carter said she hopes the community will take away a bigger message from the study, too: “Black philanthropy matters. Black leadership matters. And without it, this city will fail,” she said. “You need diversity of thought leadership to thrive.”

You can read more about “Giving Black: Cincinnati” and see the full report online.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. She has been writing about women- and minority-owned businesses in Greater Cincinnati for more than 20 years. To read more stories by Lucy, go to To reach her, email Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.