by Ben Swenson
Vivian Oden is looking to leverage the power of African American altruism by creating a formal giving circle that brings together local African American philanthropists to help solve problems facing black communities.
While African Americans are quick to help neighbors in need and offer disposable income for the greater good, their kindness rarely garners much attention. The churches and fraternal societies, as well as the civil rights and social-welfare causes that benefit from their charity often lack the glitzy publicity of larger nonprofits.
The Hampton Roads Community Foundation has started Visionaries for Change in hopes it can harness the power of that overlooked segment of giving. The organization works with donors to create funds that make grants for charitable causes.
A giving circle is a variation of the traditional endowment started by an individual or family. “Not everyone has $25,000 to start a fund at the foundation, but people can come together to make change in the community,” says Oden, the organization’s vice president for special projects. “It allows the foundation to engage people who we might not otherwise have engaged.”
A 2012 report by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation found that nearly two-thirds of African American households give to charitable causes, a collective impact of some $11 billion annually. And African Americans donate 25 percent more of their income than their white neighbors, a trend that only increases the more African Americans earn.
In 2018, Oden spearheaded an effort to bring the
“Giving Back: The Soul of Philanthropy Reframed and Exhibited” to Norfolk’s Slover
Library. The exhibition, created by writer Valaida Fullwood and photographer Charles W. Thomas Jr., “used photography to tell the story of black philanthropy,” Oden says.
Also that year, Oden was accepted into a leadership program focused on diversity, and produced a report called “Missing Voices in Philanthropy,” which aimed to increase participation in charitable giving by different ethnic minorities such as African Americans, Filipinos and Asian-Indians.
Many well-known leaders in the local African American
eager to join the organization, including L.D. Britt, professor of surgery at Eastern
Virginia Medical School. Oden herself signed on as one of the giving circle’s founding members.
The board of Hampton Roads Community Foundation endorsed
the idea of
Visionaries for Change in a big way, approving a $200,000 matching grant. The funds represent “a collective voice about supporting education, healthcare and other important causes in the black community,” Oden says.
More importantly, they underscore what organizers of good causes have known for generations. “Kindness doesn’t look one particular way,” she says. “Philanthropy is diverse.”