African Americans are charitable by nature, ever mindful of the trials we’ve endured to get to where we are, grateful that we’ve overcome, and eager to make our path to a better life just a little easier for others to follow. Not surprisingly, this impulse is even more pronounced now, during our traditional season of giving.
In study after study, African Americans have proved to be generous givers — usually donating a higher proportion of our discretionary income to charitable causes than whites. Yet too many of our institutions, too many of the causes committed to improving the quality of life and opportunity for African Americans, go wanting in the absence of adequate support from the very people they are dedicated to serving.
Our problem is not a lack of generosity but a lack of forethought, not a lack of resources but a lack of stewardship over the resources we have. Too many of us have adopted the habit of giving in a reactive fashion, depending upon which cause, friend, or relative happens to do the best job of appealing to our compassion or sense of obligation — or of catching us when we have some extra cash on hand. Aside from the practice of tithing — contributing 10% of one’s income to the church — most giving by African Americans is neither planned nor documented, so our charitable dollars are less focused and less effective.
Worse, because we do not make our charitable contributions part of the larger financial plan tied to our wealth-building objectives (including tax strategies), we often end up with little or no income for intentional, strategic giving. When we fail to include charitable giving as a line item in our personal or family budgets, we spend (or in the frenzy of holiday shopping, overspend) money we could have earmarked for the causes we believe in. That lack of planning also deprives us of the chance to find more effective and imaginative ways to make a difference through our giving, or even to think through what causes our giving should be directed toward from year to year.
This unplanned giving clearly violates one of the most basic tenets of wealth buildiing, as detailed in the ninth principle of the BLACK ENTERPRISE Declaration of Financial Empowerment (www.blackenter prise.com/wbk): to use a portion of my wealth to strengthen my community. In order to establish and maintain multigenerational wealth, we must focus our charitable impulses on the causes and institutions critical to the growth, health, and advancement of our community.
This holiday season, let’s break the cycle of undisciplined giving. Work with a financial adviser who can help you build charitable donations into your total budget. Make tithing at your church the floor, not the ceiling, of your annual giving. Also, sow seeds into the institutions — including historically black colleges and universities; local charities focused on health, education, career training, and entrepreneurship; and advocacy groups such as the NAACP and the Urban League — that meet vital needs in our community. Look into options such as donor-advised funds,