Good Works: The Top Black Philanthropists And How You Can Give Back

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November 7, 2012 ‐ By Ann Brown

At The Angel Ball last month. Image: PNP/WENN.com

When it comes to community service, African Americans give away 25 percent more of their income per year than whites, according to findings by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The Root recently looked at the top 12 philanthropists and included were a number of black celebrities and businesspeople.

Most people are aware of Bill and Camille Cosby’s long history of philanthropy–in 1988, they donated $20 million to Spelman College, the largest gift ever given to a black institution. This is just one of their major donations. They also run the Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby Foundation to fulfill the goals and dreams of their son, who sought to initiate change through education. 

But did you know Alicia Keys was a top philanthropist as well? She co-founded Keep a Child Alive with AIDS activist and film-television producer Leigh Blake in 2003. It is committed to providing AIDS medicine and care to children and families in India and Africa. In 2010, Keys’ Digital Death campaign raised over $1 million for Keep a Child Alive through Twitter and Facebook donations.

A black philanthropy list wouldn’t be complete without Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons and Oprah Winfrey. Simmons, in fact, has been called the “Godfather of Hip-Hop Philanthropy,” for raising millions of dollars to benefit urban youth through his Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation and Hip Hop Summit Action Network.

Oprah, of course, is the top African-American philanthropist. She has donated more than $300 million through the Oprah Winfrey Foundation, Oprah’s Angel Network and the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation. “Forty million dollars alone went toward the creation of Winfrey’s leadership academy for girls in South Africa. One hundred percent of proceeds from Winfrey’s Angel Network funds charitable projects and grants globally,” states the Root.

But you don’t need to be a multi-millionaire to give back. It is not only money to donate but time as well. Donate time to a homeless center or a grassroots community organization. But if you do want to give money to an organization, research first.

“They are not all 501(c)3s. You want to understand the type, and know what it means for the public and you, the prospective donor,”  says Amanda Ebokosia, executive director and founder of The Gem Project, a nonprofit organization that’s dedicated in building leaders through the development of educational enrichment programs for youth and young adults. Find out what type of nonprofit it is, either contact them directly or visit sites like Charity Navigator, for organizational information if listed. And check out sites like Volunteer Match to find a listing of organizations that suit your interests, advises Ebokosia. “Above all, you want to know the intentions of the organization, how they’re governed, and what they’ll offer for the community.” 

And, you don’t have to have a lot of money to donate. “With the spark of crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, we’ve found how great impact can be measured, by small contributions,” says Ebokosia

Another option are giving circles, groups of individuals who donate money or time to a pooled fund for charity or community projects. “It focuses on the collaborative efforts of individual contributions… to yield a bigger impact to support and fund a shared interest,” Ebokosia points out.  

Interested in getting involved even further, check out Friends of Ebonie, a full service social responsibility and career enrichment firm for millennials of color. And right now, given the ongoing relief effort for Hurricane Sandy, the American Red Cross is always an option.

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