(Photo by Flickr user PRO401(K) 2012, used under a Creative Commons license)
As the founder of a nonprofit organization I quickly learned that fundraising is hard! And it is especially hard for Black-led organizations and especially black businesses. As a Black-led entrepreneurial support organization we find ourselves in a unique position. We raise funds to help Black female entrepreneurs raise capital. So we are in the same position as those we serve.
Many corporations, foundations and individuals were motivated by the death of George Floyd to take real action for what felt like the first time in my lifetime against systemic racism. There was just one problem? No one knew what to do or how to do it. Instead they made promises. Big businesses pledged nearly $50 billion for racial justice after the death of George Floyd according to the Washington Post. However, according to a McKinsey report released in December 2020 (and updated on the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s murder), more than 1,100 organizations committed a total of $200 billion to racial justice initiatives between June 2020 and May 2021. McKinsey’s analyses showed that nearly 90% of those pledges came from financial institutions. To be fair, of the big businesses 44 made financial commitments following Floyd’s murder. However upon a deeper look we found that more than 90 percent of that amount — $45.2 billion — was allocated as loans or investments they could stand to profit from, more than half in the form of mortgages. So it wasn’t about change or impact, it was about profit and photo opps. So rather than give or even invest in organizations or small-small businesses; financial institutions chose more wealth extraction. In 2020 the bank we were using was acquired. Referred by a colleague to their outreach VP. I made contact. Invited her to several events. No show. All I got was the runaround. When we launched Founders to Funders Cultivating Female Startups Business Accelerator I was again hopeful. Armed with a 501c3 and registered as a charitable organization in the state of Pennsylvania; we applied to a local foundation’s Black Leaders Fund. Weeks, months an entire year and never received an answer to several inquiries. Later I found out the initial funding came from one of the “big businesses” and it was for one grant cycle. They continued accepting applications for another grant cycle even though they knew they didn’t have the money. This isn’t corporate responsibility, it’s irresponsible.
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More recently I participated in Founder Forward. The employees of the program sponsors completely ghosted us after one meeting. On “Impact Day” we connected with a select group of staff members, they provided advice and recommendations. We were all excited to follow up instead FF got no replies. One of my cohort members summed it up, “I felt abandoned.” Another colleague told me this was the third time a corporate initiative ended this way. Building a business whether it’s for-profit or non profit is hard enough without being abandoned by people who have agreed to help you.
When big businesses fail to follow through on their promises the racial and gender wealth gap widens. The global financing gap for women entrepreneurs is well over $300B. Further, Black and Brown women face a 90% wealth gap, receive 0.0006% of all venture capital financing, and battle a widening wage gap despite comparable educational attainment. Goldman Sachs reports that overcoming the aforementioned inequities for black and brown women would create up to 1.7M jobs for the US economy.
So what does keeping it real look like? It looks like Target. Based in Minneapolis, they’ve committed investing $2 billion over five years in Black-owned businesses, and have implemented a number of initiatives to support Black employees, including a program to help them advance into leadership positions. Locally there’s Women Way’s General Operating Fund with priority given to women of color lead organizations with budgets less than $500,000.
Instead of pledges and promises that end up as press releases and photo opps, corporations and organizations should consider subcontracting their CSR programs to grassroots organizations and entrepreneurs who are doing the work everyday. We run programs, invest money, time and resources everyday into the group you profess to want to impact. So either keep it real or keep it moving. Incorporate entrepreneurs into your CSR who can share their experiences, information on what they actually need and the best way to give it to them. Partner with organizations like The Black Innovation Alliance, a collective of over one hundred entrepreneurial support organizations instead of organizations with name, but no flame.
Keep it real by bringing together grassroots organizations and entrepreneurs. or keep it moving.-30-
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