Giving circles have exploded across the philanthrosphere over the past few decades, allowing groups of people with shared values to pool their expertise and resources to make an impact. Black Americans have been just as much a part of that as anyone else, and as Tyrone Freeman, author of “Madam C.J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy during Jim Crow” once told me, ethnic communities have a long history of pooling their resources to build power.
Texas-based Tyeshia Wilson is one such leader in the space of Black giving circles. She is director of engagement at Philanthropy Together, whose mission is to democratize and diversify philanthropy by growing and strengthening giving circles around the world. She’s also chair of HERitage Giving Fund, one of Texas’ first Black giving circles. The fund focuses on Black-led nonprofits serving Black women and girls, and has its roots in Black Philanthropy Month, which happens each August to inform, inspire and invest in Black philanthropic leadership.
HERitage currently awards one-year grants of up to $10,000 to organizations with budgets not exceeding $500,000. Recent grantees have included Abide Women’s Health Services, Soul Rep Theatre Company, and The GEMS Camp, which focuses on STEM summer programming.
I recently caught up with Wilson to chat about how she got her start in philanthropy, her work with HERitage Giving Fund, and the state of giving circles in the Black community and beyond. Here are some excerpts from that conversation, which have been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you found your way to the world of philanthropy.
So my background in philanthropy actually started before I was formally working in philanthropy. Meaning, it came from my family and from my grandmother. At a young age, she instilled the value of the church community. I’m from Texas. I’m a southern girl. So I’ve always had the spirit of service, by way of my affiliation with my church, my mother and my grandmother, [who] were real big into serving the community and giving back.
As for how my career started, I began by fundraising for big organizations like the Salvation Army. And through that experience, I started to question giving. Not in a negative way. But more like: “Why does my portfolio only have rich, old white men?” And with that, I started doing research. And I ran across a giving circle, HERitage Giving Fund. This was back in 2018. And I knew immediately that I needed to be part of a space that involved a group of Black women pooling resources together to fund amazing organizations led by Black women.
I got plugged in there from the beginning and it literally changed my trajectory of how I view giving. From that, I was recruited to join Philanthropy Together, where I now work as the director of engagement. They found me through the ecosystem of giving circles down here in the South.
Why do you think Black philanthropy has focused in on giving circles? What are some advantages of leaning on this strategy?
Well, even in my own story, I just started off with that organic search of trying to find my village and my people. So I think what the Black community is doing with giving circles is providing an open door, an entry point into philanthropy and demystifying philanthropy in a very safe and open space. It should feel like home. I hear so many stories of other people coming to giving circles and saying that they learned more about the issues plaguing their community and learning how to address them. These spaces also allow us to safely learn about the history and legacy of our giving. We can then activate our own power as philanthropists and the collective power of the shared resources we’re able to bring. And most giving circles don’t just support nonprofits, they support individuals, too, which is amazing.
What sort of members are involved with HERitage right now? What’s the profile?
So HERitage is unique. I would say about 70% of members are Black women working in nonprofits. We are Black women leading nonprofit organizations. So we’re on the recipient end. But in HERitage, we’re on the supplier side as funders, now. All our members here are based in North Texas. So we’re hyper-local, investing in organizations that serve Black women and girls in the region. It really gives us a unique experience, bringing the funder and recipient perspective. And we’re already bringing fundraising skills to the table.
What would you say some of the biggest needs are on the ground in those communities? And what are some other organizations you support?
I want to lift up organizations led by Black women specifically. We need unrestricted funding, period. We know that only 8% of all philanthropic funds go to support communities of color. Philanthropy is a “do good” movement. But there are major disparities as it relates to how money is allocated to support BIPOC organizations. But even before a grant is released, and in an unrestricted way, trust has to be there. So Black women need to be trusted and heard first. Our lived experience matters. Community knows what community needs. So provide us with an opportunity to do just that. And then trust us with the resources so that we can actually get the job done.
HERitage focuses on grantmaking, empowerment and narrative change. What exactly do you mean by narrative change?
We often think that philanthropy belongs to certain groups. You see the Bill Gateses and MacKenzie Scotts of the world. You think of big philanthropy and big dollars. But the truth of the matter is that collective giving has African ties and history. Those traditions were central to West African cultures and were brought over. So demystifying the roots of philanthropy really helps us to own the narrative of what it means to be a philanthropist. We need to own it. We’ve always looked out for each other in these ways, because we’re all we have. Philanthropy isn’t just about money. We need to embrace the diversity of all the practices that happen. Looking out for our neighbor’s houses. When a mother has a baby, watching over kids. Lending pro bono services to support organizations. We want people to know that all those things matter and are philanthropic in nature.
What about your role at Philanthropy Together? What is your day-to-day like, and what are you most proud of?
The mission of Philanthropy Together is to diversify and democratize philanthropy through the power of giving circles. So in essence, what we’re doing is, we’re taking the model of giving circles, and training people how to start giving circles, and providing resources to existing giving circles. We’re trying to cultivate a collective giving movement that is more diverse and more inclusive by bringing in people who have been underengaged in philanthropy. I absolutely love training folks about giving circles. Just today, through our signature program Launchpad, I’ve trained hundreds of people on how to start a giving circle from the ground up. I’m most proud about that. It’s also great to be of support and allyship with existing giving circles.
I see that HERitage is fiscally sponsored by Moore Impact. How did you link up with them?
So HERitage’s launch was hosted by a community foundation in Texas. It was amazing. And we stayed there for our first few years. But last year, we made a switch. Why? Well, our story. We are a group of Black women who invest in nonprofit organizations led by Black women. So we went out of our way to find a fiscal sponsor who was a Black woman. And that’s how we connected with Yvonne Moore. It’s great. So now HERitage is fully rooted in our why, from the top to bottom.