Power, Privilege and Pride: The Museum

Author: Necole S. Irvin

I’ve written previously about my personal legacy of giving, whether it was my foundational understanding of giving from my maternal ancestors, my giving brochure for my nephews or meeting the first recipient of my scholarship fund. All of these posts highlighted concrete examples of my giving legacy, but last month I was filled with something inexplicable as I walked the floors, examined the artifacts and basked in the magnificence of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

I have been sitting with the remembered beauty of this new museum and contemplating words that served as a metronome during the five days I spent in DC. The words that I mentally keep repeating were power, privilege, and pride. When I returned from DC I decided to write about these three words but struggled to get the post finished. A friend’s discussion about the importance of owning our narrative ensured that I completed this post.

I’d like to share my experience of the celebratory days of the opening. I traveled to DC with a group of friends and fellow donors to the museum. From the moment we got to the airport in Houston, we saw Black people who (correctly) assumed we were headed to the museum opening and the pride began. The museum hosted a series of viewings and receptions prior to the opening dedication and three-day community celebration on the Mall. Throughout the City there were also a host of events acknowledging the momentous occasion. I attended a pre-opening reception, the dedication, an insane after party and two additional days in the museum. Being surrounded by Black givers at all of these events was surreal, especially the day of the dedication. Black philanthropists, including my friends, who made donations of varying sizes to ensure that this concept became a reality. Philanthropists that were internationally known and those who were first-time philanthropists. It was a sea of individuals from a diversity of experiences, geography and learnings all focused on a cause. We were one within our diversity of blackness and it was powerful. Power emanated from the individual and the collective and stood tall in the midst of history and place.

Our group rented a house in DC and spent five days reveling in renewed connections, exploring new spaces and enjoying the moment. We acknowledged and celebrated our privilege. We had the opportunity, ability and flexibility to participate in this celebratory time. That privilege is something that I don’t take lightly. As I write about that privilege, I want this post to extend that privilege to others that were not at the event. My hope is that it inspires and motivates the reader to learn more about the Museum, Black contributions to this country and consider supporting this cause. Storytelling has always played a pivotal role in the Black community and it is why Blackwood Advisors encourage all givers to talk about their causes. When was the last time you shared why you give with your family or a co-worker?

The final word that exemplified my time at the new museum was pride. Pride in the leadership and philanthropy that made this happen. The role of leadership cannot be discounted. Mr. Bunch has done a yeoman’s task of taking a concept and making it a reality. As a giver, the leadership of an organization should always be considered. I didn’t have the opportunity to shake Mr. Bunch’s hand or give him an embrace but when I talk about the museum I highlight the role leadership played in successfully building a collection and building a building at the same time. I lift up his capacities and strength and acknowledge their importance. I took pride in him. I took pride in meeting elders that pointed out artifacts that they contributed to the museum.

Blacks in America continue to redefine ourselves and my museum opening experience highlighted the power, privilege, and pride that motivated the creation of our firm – Blackwood Advisors. Our firm brings to the legacy of Black giving intentionality around strategy and purposeful change. Meeting individuals with family artifacts donated to the museum, drinking with change makers whose skills were on display in the thoughtful construction and design of the building and dancing with individuals that have been raising funds for years highlighted the variety of ways each donor includes the museum as a part of their giving legacy. The reason I had the opportunity to experience the museum prior to the opening and attend the dedication is because I am a donor which means it is now a significant part of my personal legacy of giving. As we approach the end of the year and you begin taking inventory, what are the items you included in your personal giving legacy?

Don’t forget to add a trip in person or virtually to the Museum and donate to our museum.

Juneteenth – Arriving at the Freedom Party After the Lights Are Up

Authors: Kelli King-Jackson and Necole S. Irvin

We started our week with a live Facebook conversation on Juneteenth and the legacy of giving. We wanted to talk about legacy giving after the death of Prince but felt even more compelled to discuss this important topic after Muhammad Ali passed away. We define legacy giving as planned giving that is distributed after death. Watch our Facebook Live video to learn more.

While we both live in the Houston, we took different paths to get here. Necole was born and raised in the South and lived abroad and on the East coast before her return. Kelli was raised on the West coast and lived on the East coast before migrating South. Both of our mothers share a name, Emelda, and were born in small towns outside of New Orleans. These commonalities have greatly influenced our partnership and the ways we thinking about our giving. We both want to honor our mother’s while also investing in the development of Black giving in the Southern United States.

Growing up, Necole’s community didn’t celebrate Juneteenth; neither did Kelli’s. When we learned about Juneteenth we were headed toward adulthood and were confused as to why Black people would celebrate learning about our legal status two and a half years late. As we have grown in our knowledge of Black history and the perspective of Black Americans, we now understand that the timing of the knowledge of freedom was not the most important element in the Juneteenth story. The reality of freedom and what it meant to Black people is the actual focal point we should all look to. Freedom was not just about where to go, live or work. Freedom is humanity. Freedom is ever evolving and freedom also includes opportunities for learning and building wealth.

Given all the civil unrest of the last few years, our opportunities for learning and building wealth are being questioned and challenged. Stanford. Ferguson. Baltimore. Charleston. Orlando. Voting Rights. Congress. The Supreme Court. Trump. These signify a receding of life, liberty and the civil rights held dear, even for a short time, by Blacks in America.

The opportunities and importance of freedom are the basis of why Juneteenth has survived over 150 years and stands as the most visible holiday by and for Blacks in America. This year, more than any other in our lifetime, the importance of Juneteenth is clear.

Our freedom is at stake.

This year, one of the most tangible giving legacies of Juneteenth in the South is the revitalization of the historic Emancipation Park in Houston, Texas. Prominent community leaders, politician Richard Allen, Reverend Jack Yates of Antioch Baptist Church and Reverend Elias Dibble of Trinity Methodist Episcopal, all former slaves, pooled funds from the community to purchase 10 acres in 1870 as a dedicated site for annual Juneteenth celebrations. It is one of the earliest documented land purchases in the name of Juneteenth.

Upon moving to Houston, we were both introduced to Emancipation Park as a cornerstone for the Black community. The unassuming community center was noted as a building that had remained standing since 1939 and served multiple functions for the neighborhood. Before 2016 ends, Houston will celebrate a major $33.6 million overhaul to the park.

This long-standing public space in Houston shares an architect with a new national asset for the Black community – the soon-to-open Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The NMAACH is a brand new, $500 million structure that was built due to philanthropic investments that span the globe. The Gerald B. and Anita Smith Family and Lauren Anderson, America’s first Black principal for a major dance company, are Houstonians among the list of significant donors to the museum. We will be traveling to Washington, DC in September to pay homage to the legacy of our ancestors and our personal philanthropic investments to the development of this structure.

Emancipation Park and NMAAHC are sustaining legacies of freed people – past and present – that represent the cornerstones of the Black community. This legacy includes individuals identifying a challenge – a dedicated place to honor Black history – that cannot be blocked or rescinded. Black leadership, in choosing the land and raising the funds for these facilities, while understated, must be acknowledged. Courage to purchase the land and dedicate it to ensure our Black history lasts beyond any of our lifetimes should be commended.

Foresight and planning are the words that come to mind with the impactful example of pooled giving. We see this legacy in churches that donate land to communities for affordable housing and with families and individuals in the form of giving circles and other types of pooled giving. While Emancipation Park is a well-known story of collective philanthropy there are many other examples across the South within the Black community. In Necole’s first giving video I talk about how her maternal ancestors purchased land and dedicated parcels for a school and a church. Six generations later both are still standing strong.

What is the giving legacy in your community? How will it stand the test of time? Today as we celebrate our history and progress in the freedom journey let’s challenge each other to leave a legacy with our giving for the next generation. Loudly share that legacy for the entire world to know!

Four Women Part With Their Money (Part 2)

Author: Necole S. Irvin

Nationally, the cost of college tuition continues to rise.  This is an unfortunate fact.  While not the only or complete answer, scholarships are a solution for many.  This two-part post is about the post-college desire and clarity that three friends and I had to give back by creating a scholarship for Black women attending our alma mater. While this is our story, we hope it provides guidance for anyone considering this path.

In Part 1, FDE (the name my now life-long friends used in college) committed to creating a scholarship, met our financial goal and in conjunction with a community foundation began preparing for our first recipient.  As a part of the preparation we reached out to our alma mater.  Reconnecting with the university’s development office provided an unexpected opportunity to expand our original vision.

When we first started our alma mater wasn’t an option because of the size of our scholarship but by the time we were ready to launch circumstances had changed.  A donor to the university funded an incentive program to increase the number of endowed scholarships.  With a minimum commitment of $50,000, the incentive program would match funds 1:1.  This meant an investment of $60,000 would now be a fund of $120,000.  The minimum commitment was higher than FDE’s original goal of $15,000 but we decided that it was a challenge we could meet.  We each reevaluated our ability to contribute within the next six months, recommitted and succeeded in reaching out goal!

We transferred our fund from the community foundation to our alma mater.  Our scholarship is now administered by our academic institution, which includes the application, selection procedures, and policies.  By participating in this program we were able to go from a small book scholarship to an endowed scholarship that will have a larger impact on each recipient’s educational debt.  Our scholarship is our legacy.

Endowed scholarships are permanent.  An endowed scholarship fund makes awards based upon the annual earnings of the fund’s principal. Normally, 80 percent of the earnings are devoted to one or more scholarship awards while the remaining 20 percent of earnings are re-invested with the principal.  Academic institutions have varying allocation strategies, minimum creation levels, fees and naming rights for endowed scholarships. Our alma mater allowed us to name our endowed scholarship.  We chose ‘1968 Scholarship’, in honor of the first year Black women graduated from our university.  When we began our adult learning together we had no idea that one day we would choose to honor four women who paved the way for our experience.
4 women part 2
A question that all donors must answer is whether they want to promote their scholarship.  There are many reasons for scholarship promotion including raising funds, increasing the visibility and prestige of the award, and expanding the number of applicants. While it was not an unanimous decision we agreed to promote our scholarship for two reasons. First, we wanted to honor the women that paved our way and celebrate the legacy of our friendship. Additionally, as four Black women at a PWI we want to broaden the real and perceived gap of Black alumni giving and participation.  One of our first promotional steps was to announce the 1968 Scholarship to the alma mater’s Black alumni group.  The announcement included a challenge to our fellow alumni to meet and exceed our success.

Another important question to consider is the appropriate level of involvement.  Determining the level of involvement with scholarship recipients should align with the purpose of the scholarship.  Is your scholarship about a specific profession?  Is it important for you to monitor your scholarship recipients progress? FDE decided that we wanted a connection to our recipients. We want each recipient to understand why we created the scholarship and their place in its legacy.  FDE understands the value in serving as a resource and building a network to aid in long-term success and want to contribute non-monetary resources to our recipients.

Reflecting on our experience shows that creating a scholarship is doable.  We did it.  Four friends overcame challenges, kept a focus on why we started on this journey and did not let the years deter us.  We are now celebrating the first recipient of the 1968 Scholarship!  I am so proud of myself and each of my friends.  Our journey was just that — ours.   I hope that these posts provide you with food for thought and inspiration as you determine if creating or supporting a scholarship program is for you and your family or friends.

If you are interested in an academic institution administering your scholarship, contact them and find out their requirements.  An additional resource is the National Scholarship Providers Association is the only national organization dedicated solely to supporting the needs of professionals administering scholarships in colleges and universities, non-profits, foundations, and businesses.

Four Women Part With Their Money (Part 1)

Author: Necole S. Irvin

Nationally, the cost of college tuition continues to rise.  This is an unfortunate fact.  While not the only or complete answer, scholarships are a solution for many.  This two-part post is about the post-college desire and clarity that three friends and I had to give back by creating a scholarship for Black women attending our alma mater. While this is our story, we hope it provides guidance for anyone considering this path.

My friends and I met our freshman year of college and are still having a FDE blast!  (FDE was the name of our group and if you went to school in Atlanta during the early 90’s you might have attended one of our “events”.)   Several years after graduation we began talking about how we could give back.  We attended a well-endowed PWI (aka predominately white institution) and while alumni giving requests were not particularly enticing we desired to contribute to the place that played an important role in each of our lives.  We decided to create a scholarship.

When one is considering the creation of a scholarship the first step is to determine the purpose.  Why is the scholarship being created and how will you determine its success?  We all graduated with debt and understood how that can influence your future.  As a result, creating a scholarship to support Black women and help reduce their educational debt was the path we chose. In the early days of our discussions, awarding a scholarship was how we defined success.

Creating a scholarship requires funding.  Is it funds you have saved, solicited, or a generated via a family/collective account? After several years of discussion, FDE committed to each annually contribute $500 and once we met our goal of $15,000 we would begin awarding a scholarship to cover book fees.  At the time there were many things we didn’t discuss.  Would we continue an annual contribution to the scholarship fund?  What would be the duration of the award? Would it be an annual scholarship? We also failed to consider if we wanted the scholarship to remain only ours or invite others to contribute.

Even with the unknowns we were clear in our purpose.  We wanted to support someone like us which meant gender, community service and financial need were important.  Geography, field of study or academic achievement including grades, rank in class or standardized test results were not.  The selection criteria should support the purpose of the scholarship.These and many other considerations must be thought through as you develop the scholarship guidelines and selection criteria.  The selection criteria should support the purpose of the scholarship.

Pivotal to the success of any scholarship program is who will administer the scholarship and what will it cost?  When we committed to creating a scholarship for a student at our alma mater we approached them as the logical administrator.  Unfortunately our aspirations didn’t reach the institutions minimum levels.  This didn’t deter us.  One of us worked at her hometown community foundation and we started our fund there.  What is right for you will depend on factors including the type of student you want to help, how much you want to give away, and how much say you want to have in choosing the recipients.  The four of us lived in different cities and the community foundation was the right fit for us as we built our scholarship fund.

Even though life challenges (loss jobs, unexpected financial crisis, shifting responsibilities, stock market plunges, etc.) stretched our original timeline several years longer than expected, our commitment remained strong.  Once we reached our original financial goal we agreed that the community foundation would serve as the administrator of the scholarship.  We started considering our role beyond raising the funds to support the scholarship.  One of the things we talked about was how to ensure that students learned of our scholarship and applied.  We reached out to our alma mater for guidance.  This decision changed the trajectory of our story and the future impact of our scholarship.

Part 2 will follow our journey as we worked with our alma mater and prepared for our first scholarship recipient.  Check back next week to continue reading about our experience.

Getting My Nephews Hooked!

Getting My Nephews Hooked: How do I engage my family in philanthropy?

I love my nephews.  These two amazing boys are part of the reason I took a job here in Houston.  During my first year living in here one of my nephews asked about my new job.  As I began describing my work in organized philanthropy I saw both boys’ eyes glaze over.  This caused the birth of an idea that would have made my teacher mom quite happy.

Many of my earliest memories of the holidays included the one big item I’d hoped for and several practical things like fruit from our church (always a bag with two oranges, an apple and peppermint), clothes and socks. These were not items at the top of my list when considering what to give my nephews. Every year it gets harder and harder to find the right gift for two now teenage boys who are blessed to have both things they need and want. As I begin preparing for the holiday season I started thinking about what I’d give my nephews. Books, gaming programs, sports memorabilia were on the list but nothing really excited me. I also tried to recall what I’d given them the last two holiday seasons and much to my disgust I couldn’t. I then remembered the glazed eyes and realized that I had not been more intentional in being a model for giving. I decided to create an “I am philanthropist” experience for them.

I decided to provide them with the opportunity to be intentional philanthropists. This experience was done with a $150, a timeline and a guide book.

  • I determined the amount of cash because I wanted it to be significant and provide options for a single or multiple gifts.
  • I placed a time limit on their decisions because that is what happens in real life and I also didn’t want this experience to get lost in the midst of their busy lives.
  • Finally I prepared a bonded and personalized handbook. The creation of the guidebook including defining philanthropy, setting out the parameters of the experience and providing information on several non-profits. I chose organizations that were connected to children, had tangible results, geographically close or were issues impacting our family. I curated ten groups and provided a short description of who they were, who they helped and why/how.

When the boys opened their gifts, confusion and not joy was on their faces. After I cleared up the confusion they wanted clarification that all of the money had to be given away (and not to each other). I spent lots of time curating the list and in the end they were influenced by other factors – including the heavy rotation of a powerful commercial on animal shelters.

When their thank you letters arrived they were surprised too receive them and it sparked an additional conversation on how the money was being used, if they’d like to make this an annual tradition and if they were happy with their choices. My nephews are also now on the donor list of these organizations. This means they receive newsletters and new requests to continue supporting the organizations. What was their learning? It made them more aware of the role individual contributions play in organizations that help communities thrive.

Would I do it again? Yes. My hope is that the guidebook becomes unnecessary and my financial gift includes their own contribution. My recommendation would be that habits require practice. Engaging my nephews in philanthropy is not a one-time event. Please check out our guidebook. The creation of it was fun and inexpensively bond at an office supply store. If you’ve done something similar or decide to give it a try we’d loved to hear about your experience and how it was received.