Interview: Philanthropy Together’s Tyeshia Wilson says ‘take action now’


Elika Roohi


Tyeshia Wilson is the Director of Engagement at Philanthropy Together and a Founding Member of HERitage Giving Fund in Houston, Texas. HERitage is one of the first African American giving circles in Texas that fund Black-led nonprofits serving Black women and Girls, and Wilson herself is a Black philanthropy expert.

Tyeshia Wilson is the Director of Engagement at Philanthropy Together and a Foundation Member of HERitage Giving Fund in Texas.

During August – Black Philanthropy Month – we wanted to catch up with Wilson about her work at Philanthropy Together and HERitage, what it’s like working for women and girls of colour in Texas right now, and what it means to work to diversify the philanthropic landscape.

Elika Roohi: Tell us about your work with giving circles, both with Philanthropy Together and with HERitage Giving Fund?

Tyeshia Wilson: I am proud to serve as Chair-Elect of HERitage Giving Fund, the first Black women-led giving circle in Texas that supports Black-led nonprofits serving Black women and girls. Serving the Dallas area, HERitage Giving Fund is committed to engaging Black women of varying economic status and backgrounds who have a heart for investing in grassroot organizations. As a member of HERitage, I was thrilled to step into the role of Director of Engagement at Philanthropy Together, a global initiative to democratize and diversify philanthropy through the power of giving circles. We are scaling and strengthening a collective giving movement that has roots in cultures all around the world. Each day, I train and connect with everyday philanthropists to share experiences, best practices and resources to help their circles grow in size and impact. My work at Philanthropy Together emphasizes the importance of connecting individuals with shared values to create a more equitable society. 

Communities of colour receive just 8 percent of all philanthropy dollars in the U.S. Given this disparity, how are you thinking about who you fund with the HERitage Giving Fund?

Before joining HERitage Giving Fund, I saw the income disparities in my city of Dallas, Texas, but I didn’t fully understand the resource disparities for Black-led nonprofit organizations. Black giving circles like ours are part of the marginalized communities we fund, so we have unique insight into where help is most needed. With HERitage Giving Fund we award grants to organizations located in Texas that serve Black women and girls who also live, work, or study in Texas. We specifically look for organizations that are led by Black women and 50 per cent or more of the clients served are Black. This is a great example of how giving circles can help diversify and democratize a philanthropic sector that is too often centred around wealthy white funders.

HERitage Giving Fund was founded five years ago during Black Philanthropy Month. Can you share how you use Black Philanthropy Month to propel your mission forward?

Black philanthropists give year-round. In fact, Black households give approximately $11 billion to charitable causes annually — a more significant portion of our wealth than any other racial or ethnic group. In August, we celebrate! Black Philanthropy Month is a time to uplift and elevate Black philanthropic giving and showcase that we are philanthropists. We must build on the legacy of our ancestors by reclaiming the word ‘philanthropy.’ Just because we don’t have the wealth or connections of a Rockefeller, does not mean we’re not philanthropists. HERitage is committed to elevating the stories and experiences of Black philanthropy, especially Black women’s leadership – and that’s exactly what Black Philanthropy Month celebrates.

Why are giving circles an effective model of philanthropy?

Giving circles are one of the most effective ways to diversify and democratize philanthropy. In a giving circle, everyone has a voice and vote, deciding equally where to direct their collective impact in order to shape the world around them. For too long, philanthropy has been a select few deciding the impact on many. By focusing on the grassroots and by giving with no strings attached, giving circles are shifting power to leaders on the ground, who then decide for themselves what to do with the funding.

How are they helping to diversify the philanthropic landscape?

Giving circles push the boundary of who is a philanthropist. In traditional philanthropy, communities of colour receive just 8 per cent of philanthropy. However, through Philanthropy Together’s Racial Equity Community of Practice dozens of giving circles are training to embed racial equity in their circles’ grantmaking and culture. They are able to activate overlooked donors – particularly women and people of colour. The giving circle model takes people and issues from the margins and puts them in the centre. Giving circles also embrace trust-based philanthropy, providing no-string-attached funding with little to no reporting requirements. This is fundamentally different from how philanthropy has traditionally been practiced, and it breaks the power dynamics between who gives and who receives. 

HERitage, which is based in Texas, funds Black-led nonprofits serving Black women and girls. Do you engage with supporting reproductive justice? What does that look like for your organization?

HERitage is committed to supporting organizations that provide services and programs for women and girls. As a volunteer-based organization our strength lies in our ability to support and amplify the work and the stories of Black-women-led organizations. Whether we are providing direct funding to partner grantees like the Abide Women’s Health Services, an accredited Easy Access Clinic in the heart of South Dallas serving pregnant women, or amplification support to non-grantees like The Afiya Center, we are a resource to encourage the community to learn and to support the work these organizations are doing. We strongly encourage the community to invite organizations that are in alignment with our goals to apply for funding and look forward to restructuring our grantmaking to look at categories, like reproductive justice, to orient the diversity and growing needs in the community. 

We’re now two years removed from the summer of 2020, when George Floyd’s murder galvanized a global movement for Black Lives Matter. Around this time, there was a surge in donations. What are you seeing now?

It is long overdue but has been extremely encouraging to see the surge in everyday American households becoming increasingly philanthropic and keeping that up through 2022. However, we haven’t come close to closing the racial funding gap for nonprofits led by and serving communities of colour. Tech giants committed more than a billion dollars toward racial justice, however in context it is pocket change. America’s biggest public companies collectively committed upwards of $49 billion since Floyd’s murder, but more than 90 per cent of that was allocated as investment they could profit from. That’s another reason why the growing giving circle movement is so important — it’s philanthropy for us, by us, and that makes it sustainable beyond one galvanizing moment.

Black households in the United States donate a more significant portion of their wealth than households of other races. What can we do to help shift the cultural definition of philanthropy away from only billionaire philanthropy, and to include more community giving?

Giving circles engage donors who are left out of ‘big philanthropy’ efforts, shifting the paradigm of how we define ‘philanthropist’. ‘Philanthropy’ means a love of humanity. And that love is not limited by the dollars in your wallet. Shifting the definition to include more community giving means blurring the lines between who gives and who receives – understanding that it doesn’t stop at financial giving. Giving circles are about change, not charity.

August was Black Philanthropy Month. What message do you want the philanthropy sector to hear right now?

Nearly all of the $471 billion donated each year to charity goes to just 5 per cent of all nonprofits, leaving 95 per cent of the sector overlooked and underinvested. In the U.S., communities of colour receive just 8 per cent of philanthropic dollars. In a world where the colour of your skin can get you killed, investing in such a limited number of communities and leaders is dangerous. A strong, equitable civil sector requires greater diversity of ideas and solutions. The theme for Black Philanthropy Month this year is ‘Fierce Urgency of Now.’ For any donor, of any size gift, I urge you to take action now and look at the Black-led nonprofits in your own backyard and consider funding them with your dollars, volunteer time, and advocacy. Also, check out the Global Giving Circle Directory and see what organizations giving circles near you are funding — and how you can join them in giving collectively.

Elika Roohi is Digital Editor at Alliance magazine.

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