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Philanthropy and the Black Church, Synagogue, and Mosque

If philanthropy is sincerely interested in impact for Black people, they should partner with Black religious communities. Religious communities have been the strongest anchor institutions in Black communities in America since the 1787 founding of the Free African Society.

Earlier in 2023, a gathering on the necessary collaboration between Philanthropy and the Black Church was cohosted by the Center for the Church and the Black Experience at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and Lake Institute on Faith & Giving at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. They have published a summary of that meeting that I strongly recommend to anyone in Black religious leadership or in philanthropic circles.

The biggest takeaway for me is the breadth of the gap between philanthropy and Black religious leadership. That gap prevents collaboration and impact – if the people with the financial resources can’t connect with the people doing the work, the work stays under-resourced and the funders miss the impact. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

The summary offers great ways for Black religious leaders to reinvent how they can connect to philanthropy, and ways for philanthropy to break out of its shell to support the work. Here are just a few of the many offered:

For Black religious leaders:

  • Once again take up leadership in envisioning the agenda, this time, to support philanthropy in its own reach for social justice;

  • Reimagine descriptions of the work already taking place to make it legible to funders;

  • Rethink seminary curricula to include social impact leadership and philanthropic engagement; and

  • Get in the room with funders, and invite them in to see the work you already do.

For funders:

  • Support intermediaries if individual churches are too small;

  • Support community-led research and development efforts;

  • Elevate leaders who are already doing the work in your own philanthropic circles; and

  • Invest in capacity building for people and institutions.

I would add just one further recommendation to these excellent suggestions: don’t stop with just the Church. There are also majority Black synagogues and Black mosques that serve all the same roles as community anchors and social service centers as churches do. These communities are also worthy partners, and they also contend with the burdens of religious bias against them.

There are now more resources than ever for funders who are curious about the prosocial role that religious communities can play. Recently, the Chronicle of Philanthropy ran a series of four stories about religion in the nonprofit sector, and Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) wrapped up a four-year investigation into the intersection of religion and civic engagement that culminated in a Funding Guide for Faith and Democracy and a curated body of evidence. I’m honored that my own research about religion in the nonprofit sector features in both the Chronicle and PACE publications, as well as in this symposium report. It’s a joy to see resources about religious contributions expanding and getting wider play!

If you are a funder curious about how to partner with faith communities, how to improve your partnerships in these spaces, or are looking for partners on specific issues, reach out today to schedule a free 30 minute consultation.

Finally, big congratulations on this important work to my friends Rev. Dr. Reggie Blount of the Center and Dr. Elizabeth Lynn of the Lake Institute. You make the world a more loving place.


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