Practicing Strategic Compassion

A year after Katrina, the Gulf Coast is still rebuilding. Here's how to make sure your charitable giving is effective.

Cherrelle Robinson feared the worst. Last August, the Los Angeles resident worried that her cousin Charlene, after years of living below sea level in a flood-prone section of New Orleans, might have been one of the more than 1,000 people killed during the wrath of Hurricane Katrina. “I panicked because that was my only relative in New Orleans,” says Robinson, 34. “There was a connection that we had. She was like an extension of who I am.”

Robinson filed a missing persons report with the police, but months passed before authorities located her cousin in Florida. Meanwhile she sat in dismay, watching the horrific television footage of people, mostly African Americans, stewing in the heat and contaminated floodwater. “I couldn’t imagine her being caught up in those images. It definitely touched me,” she says. Robinson knew she had to act. “It’s something that you feel responsible to do. If I were in that situation and I needed help, I would want someone to help me.”

Now, more than a year later, the city of New Orleans still needs help. “There is an immediate need for charitable funds to assist us in rebuilding our great city of New Orleans,” says Mayor C. Ray Nagin. The decimation of the business community, at the heart of the city’s growth and development, exemplifies the destruction that still lingers. Before the hurricane, “New Orleans was a thriving metropolitan city with over 22,000 businesses,” Nagin says. “As a result of the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, nearly one year after the storm, we only have about 2,100 of our companies back in business — that is only 10% of our businesses that have been able to return.”

In times of crisis, we all want to give of our time, talents, and money. In fact, African Americans have traditionally been a philanthropic community, donating 25% more of their discretionary income to charities than whites, mostly to churches, says Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Yet, when it comes to making monetary contributions, blacks often do so indiscriminately.

To have the most impact, your financial contributions should be part of your overall wealth-building strategy, as stated in Declaration of Financial Empowerment Principle No. 9: to use a portion of my wealth to strengthen my community. Read on to learn how to make sure your gifts go where they’re intended and that your giving is in line with your financial goals.

GIVING FROM THE HEART
Tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Asia, and 9-11 can spark an unprecedented outpouring of giving. When many African Americans reach into their pockets, they seek out African American-led charities and organizations that will use their collective funds in communities of color.

That’s what Deborah A. Elam did. As chief diversity officer of General Electric and a member of the executive leadership team of GE’s African American Forum, one of several company organizations that facilitate dialogue and progress in diversity, Elam listened to Forum members’ concerns about reaching out to the community after Hurricane Katrina. They wanted to

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