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According to a survey conducted by the Northern Trust Corporation, a financial-services firm in Chicago, giving to charitable causes varies significantly by race. According to the report in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, "Wealthy black Americans are more likely to donate to educational institutions, religious organizations, and human-services groups than other affluent people." That's an interesting finding. But I was struck by the interpretation offered by Marguerite Griffin, national director of philanthropic services at Northern Trust. She told the Chronicle, "“Affluent blacks have been most interested in supporting groups that have supported them."

Is there really evidence in the survey to suggest that? Do blacks generally give to their alma maters at higher rates than whites? Or do they just place a higher value on educational causes in general? And what about religious organizations? Blacks tend to be one of the more strongly religious groups in the country. Doesn't it follow they would be more likely to give to religious organizations, regardless of whether they themselves have benefited from the work of religious groups?

The survey also found that blacks gave comparatively less to health groups and to environmental and animal-welfare organizations than other affluent people. Despite years of liberals trying to suggest that environmentalism should be of particular concern to racial minorities--because they are supposedly the ones most harmed by air pollution, etc--the message doesn't seem to have gotten through.

On the other hand, there is a fascinating generational divide. "For example, 57 percent of older blacks gave to religious organizations, while only 29 percent of the younger ones did. Young blacks were more likely to support environmental and animal-welfare charities than their older counterparts, with 36 percent of those under 35 giving to such groups, compared with 28 percent of those 55 and older supporting such groups." In other words, the giving of wealthy blacks will over time start to look more like the giving of wealthy whites.

Still, I have a tough time imagining that gap will close any time soon. Most successful blacks are not very far removed from the severe problems that plague the black community. A sibling without a high school diploma, a childhood friend in jail, a cousin who becomes a teen mother--these are the things that will make blacks continue to care more about education and religious organizations than animal welfare and environmentalism.

2 thoughts on “Race and philanthropy”

  1. This is an interesting article in itself, and it is also interesting because it points to the danger involved in how we interpret results. For example, African-Americans and Latinos are less likely to make a charitable bequest commitment than Whites. One might conclude that African-Americans and Latinos are simply less charitable. However, when one looks at people who have a will, African-Americans, Latinos, and Whites are all pretty much just as likely to make a charitable bequest commitment. When looking at numbers, we need to be careful figuring out what they actually mean. (www.mlinnovations.com/books) (www.twitter.com/mlinnovations)

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