Blog / Community Philanthropy

The Community Investment Network and the Fierce Urgency of Now

by Marsha Morgan
The Community Investment Network and the Fierce Urgency of Now
Pictured above (L to R): Michelle Serrano (Next Generation of African American Philanthropists), Natasha Harrisson (For Her), Joy Webb (Circle of Joy), and blog author Marsha Morgan (Birmingham Change Fund) pose for a picture at the CircleUp ATL networking event in August 2022, hosted by CIN and Philanthropy Together. Photographer: John Stephens, JAS Photo.

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”  – Martin Luther King, Jr.

For more than ten years, the month of August has been recognized as Black Philanthropy Month (BPM) and is a celebration of Black giving. As a member of the Community Investment Network (CIN), a national network of giving circles and philanthropists impacting African American communities and communities of color, I understand the need to celebrate and recognize Black giving.

Unfortunately, mainstream and popularized perspectives of philanthropy are often dismissive of the contributions of giving by African Americans, which significantly discounts the rich legacy and tradition that has sustained, supported, and strengthened our communities for centuries.

According to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Cultures of Giving: Energizing and Expanding Philanthropy by and for Communities of Color, Black households give 25% more of their income annually than white households. However, the stories we hear often portray Black people only as the recipients of philanthropy. This narrative completely ignores the activity of Black families and communities committed to the supply side of philanthropy.

That is why collectives like the Community Investment Network are necessary. Each aspect of our identity creates space for more inclusive philanthropy.

Community: Who We Are

The Community Investment Network was founded in 2004 by two giving circles: the Birmingham Change Fund in Birmingham, Alabama, and the Next Generation of African American Philanthropists in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Those two founding circles have since established a network of nearly 30 circles, with several in development, impacting Black and brown communities across the country. Today, our community comprises like-minded members of giving circles, institutional partners, and everyday givers.

Collective giving has always been a cornerstone in ethnic and tribal communities. Subsequently, it is no surprise that CIN giving circles, like other donor circles — such as fraternities, sororities, and mutual aid societies — are meeting needs in their communities through the power of collective giving. Our members address social justice, racial equity, and economic issues as problem solvers.

Members of CIN rightfully own the term “philanthropists” and do not accept a non-inclusive narrative as the norm. We aim to demystify the stereotypes associated with a philanthropist’s appearance or wealth. As a result, our giving circles offer a unique form of power and place for Black people and communities of color that is often absent in traditional philanthropy.

As philanthropists, our members are the first investors in their local community. Our circles focus on various issues, including education, youth, healthcare, and economics. To meet community needs, our members leverage their collective resources to address social problems thoughtfully, strategically, and intentionally.

Investment: What We Do

The Community Investment Network’s mission is to inspire, connect, and strengthen people of color to make strategic philanthropy and collective giving practices a part of their lives. We support the launch and strengthening of giving circles as a way of redefining and reframing philanthropy. Hence, it is more racially inclusive, democratic, and accessible to people of all classes. We take pride in reframing who is a philanthropist by encouraging collective giving. We utilize convenings as an opportunity for philanthropic education, engagement, peer learning, and leadership development to strengthen circle members as community leaders and to create space for renewal, fellowship, and knowledge sharing.

Within local communities, our giving circles leverage their collective resources to create a positive impact proactively. As community members, our circle members listen to their community to understand how to provide resources strategically and intentionally through grantmaking, partnerships, and sharing our skills, time, and influence.

Network: How We Do It

The Community Investment Network engages donors of color to participate in democratic practices of philanthropy through giving circles. We support the development and strengthening of giving circles as a way of redefining, reframing, and reclaiming philanthropy to ensure it is more racially inclusive, representative, and accessible to all classes of people.

Our signature programming strengthens and increases the number of donors of color. Our college initiative provides college students with tools to address challenges in their communities through collective philanthropy, creating a new generation of philanthropists of color. Our Essentials for Diversity in Giving (EDG) illuminates the fundamentals of philanthropy from the perspective of communities of color. The EDG curriculum increases and strengthens entities’ engagement with donors of color, resulting in a stronger and more equitable community at large.

The Five Ts of Philanthropy: How CIN Leverages and Mobilizes Resources

Although Black communities are the most giving, research from the Bridgespan Group indicates that, on average, the revenues of Black-led nonprofits are 24% smaller than the revenues of their white-led counterparts and that unrestricted net assets of Black-led organizations are 76% smaller than their white-led counterparts.

Since 2004, Community Investment Network members have collectively invested their time, talent, treasure, testimony, and ties to benefit others. The leveraging and mobilizing of the resources of our circles are rooted in systemic change, embedded in community impact, and grounded in love. “Giving back” for our circles is not only anchored in giving financially but also collectively giving resources that are not monetary. Many CIN members serve on nonprofit boards, are community volunteers, and are social justice champions.

Since the Community Investment Network’s inception, nearly $2 million has been awarded and over $18 million worth of volunteer hours have been invested. Our members’ impact expands beyond dollars and has fueled policy changes, such as A Legacy of Tradition (ALOT), that helped to reduce school suspension rates of Black boys in Wake County, North Carolina, and I Be Black Girl advocating against natural hair discrimination in the workplace in Nebraska.

As self-governing groups, CIN giving circles meet community needs quickly and efficiently by filling funding gaps by traditional institutions. This ability removes barriers to funding posed by many traditional institutions. Over the years, this intentional practice has led to under-resourced and underfunded smaller nonprofit organizations receiving funding from our giving circles.

Black Philanthropy Month

The 2022 theme of Black Philanthropy Month, The Fierce Urgency of Now: From Dream to Action, could not be more timely. The impacts of a global pandemic, years of racial injustice, and a widening wealth gap have spurned the need for action in support of the Black community.

Black Philanthropy Month is a time to support Black-led and -serving organizations and honor the rich tradition of Black giving by:

  • Celebrating Black givers, donors, and Black-led organizations
  • Investing your time, talent, treasure, testimony, and ties in a Black-led organization
  • Building community and creating community by joining or starting a giving circle
  • Leveraging your network of resources to advocate for social justice issues and marginalized populations
  • Learning more about the history and current state of Black giving
  • Attending a Black Philanthropy Month event near you

These are only a few ways that may lead to increased support of the Black community. However, as a collective, we have the power to create an equitable future for the Black community and in support of Black-led and -serving nonprofits. To create change, we must accept Dr. King’s admonition that “This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Marsha Morgan
Advisory Board Member, Community Investment Network
Marsha Morgan is a founding member of the Birmingham Change Fund and former Board Chair of the Community Investment Network. She resides in Birmingham, Alabama, and loves to read, travel, and champion giving circles.