In the Community

Vivian Oden: Black Philanthropy Matters

Vivian Oden is vice president for equity and inclusion at the Hampton Roads Community Foundation.

Black philanthropy matters.

It is the economic engine which powers and empowers our community – sustaining social, business, educational, and religious institutions all while supporting friends and families in need.

Too often it has been overlooked. The global Black Philanthropy Month celebration – held annually in August – helps shed light on the rich traditions of giving by Black people throughout the centuries. The Hampton Roads Community Foundation brought the celebration to the region four years ago and will continue the tradition this year with a special virtual event, called Giving Black® Hampton Roads.

It is the culmination of a research project to learn about the lasting impact of Black donors in their own communities and beyond.

After interviewing and surveying more than 500 local participants, the Foundation found more proof of this truth: that philanthropy is more than money. It involves the giving of one’s time, talent, and testimony.

For example, when Virginia schools decided to close rather than integrate in the 1950s, Black philanthropists – teachers, preachers, and community leaders – helped educate 17 Norfolk students who would be the first to integrate schools in the city. It’s the same kind of philanthropy that started a scholarship in honor of the Norfolk 17 last year at the community foundation by generous Black donors whose gift will forever help students get an education.

Black folks are known for making a way out of no way and giving back to support their communities. I encourage more mainstream philanthropic organizations to recognize the importance of Black voices by placing more Black people on their boards, hiring them to lead their organizations, and featuring them in their programs.

Consider these data points revealed in the Giving Black® Hampton Roads study:

  • 75 percent of Black donors reported volunteering in Black and non-Black communities.
  • Nearly 4 out of 5 Black donors agree on the importance of their donation dollars going to Black-led organizations.
  • 98 percent of Black donors reported giving during the past 12 months.
  • 15 percent of Black donors reported giving $10,000+ over the past 12 months.
  • More than 40 percent reported a household income of $120,000 or more, with a quarter earning $160,000 or above.

The research project makes it hard to ignore the longtime traditions and impact of giving by members of the Black community.

It is also timely. Financial experts project that within the next few decades, roughly $30 trillion in assets will be transferred from the Baby Boomers – one of the largest and wealthiest generations in national history – to their Generation X children.

However, there is scant data regarding this wealth transfer and what it may translate into for Black communities. This study helps explain the potential impact.

Having worked and volunteered in the nonprofit industry for more than 20 years, I have seen how major life events such as wealth transfers often trigger philanthropic plans.

Based on my professional experience, I also believe there are more actions that charitable organizations and people can take to better engage Black donors and donors of Color, including:

  • Start by celebrating Black Philanthropy Month
  • Talk to your donors and prospective donors about their interests
  • Find ways to invite and include Black donors in your organizations. And, listen to them.
  • Work collaboratively to identify community needs and solutions
  • Collect and share charitable resources with Black donors and Black-led nonprofits

By deepening relationships with Black donors, philanthropic, civic, and business groups can learn more about the unique attributes of Black philanthropy and its ability to achieve transformational change in the community.


The Giving Black® Hampton Roads report is available now. Get the report here.

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