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A Local Leader Calls for Investment in Black Women-led Nonprofits

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features philanthropist, fundraiser and advocate Akilah S. Wallace, who serves as Executive Director of Faith in Texas.

Akilah S. Wallace
Akilah S. Wallace, courtesy of Akilah S. Wallace
  1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?

When I started out in the nonprofit sector and philanthropy, I wish I knew the diversity of career paths available and how both work and volunteer experiences in private and public sectors provided much-needed, transferable skills. Additionally, I wish I knew how valuable my lived experiences as a Black woman, single mother, volunteer and more, could help shape culturally-relevant programs, policies and how resources are distributed.

  • What is your current greatest professional challenge?

My current greatest professional challenge is ongoing advocacy for “equitable” investment in Black women’s leadership throughout the nonprofit sector. Earlier this year, Philanthropy Women published an article about the discrepancies in funding for Women of Color-led nonprofits. Since then, major funds like Black Girl Freedom Fund, Grantmakers for Girls of Color and Ms. Foundation for Women have launched investments prioritizing Black women and girls. These represent upward movement; however, I question the depth of the ripple effect and its reach with local and regional funders. The competition for national funds is massive and I am concerned that other funders are not following their lead and doing the hard internal work, such as evaluating racial inequities in funding policies, or wrestling with racial bias and privilege, etc., which should lead to increased funding in Black women-led nonprofits.

  • What inspires you most about your work?

Having access to dozens of brilliant, bold and badass women with a diversity of thought, leadership, lived, and shared experience; spiritual and healing practice; and economic status inspires me the most about my work. Prior to working in nonprofits and philanthropy, I rarely engaged in meaningful conversations with people outside of my comfort zone. Now, I not only have established multi-year relationships with wealthy women who periodically check on my family but I have embarked on powerful policy campaigns alongside women on the margins, fighting for pathways to freedom, citizenship, quality education for their children and more. Every time I make a financial ask on behalf of our most vulnerable populations, I am inspired. Sharing testimonies, finding shared interests and speaking about the impact funding makes, inspires me to show up each and every day.

I am grateful for Dallas’ local funders who listened to recommendations from grassroots leaders on who to direct funds to in response to COVID-19 and heightened racial tension following protests.

  • How does your gender identity inform your work?

My gender identity informs my work on a daily basis. First, in my experience, the majority of nonprofit staff are female. The grant managers and family decision-makers about giving have been female. The clients being served by many of the organizations are majority female. Everywhere I go, within the sector I am most likely to engage with a female. It is also important to note that they are generally cis-gender female, as well. However, I am grateful for my years working in community organizing because it has expanded my understanding of how systemic racism and patriarchy contributed to my past work experiences in predominantly white female spaces and shaped my current perspectives as a Black woman leading a multi-racial, multi-faith social justice movement. This is also why my giving circle chose to prioritize membership and financial investment for Black women. Unfortunately, I also feel added pressure as a female leader both professionally and personally.

  • How can philanthropy support gender equity?

Philanthropy can support gender equity by establishing clearly defined and written equitable policies and practices. Institutions should have gender equity standards for its staffing, decision-making, funding and revenue, such as a gendered investments mix. Individual donors should ask nonprofits they fund about how they are prioritizing gender equity. Philanthropy can support gender equity by learning how history has contributed to inequities and committing to change the course, now, for future generations.

  • In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us?

In the next 10 years, I see gender equity movements transforming the world. Honestly, each generation has benefited from the relentless efforts made by gender equity leaders in education, civil and voters rights, LGBTQ+, feminist, girl power, environmental, healthcare and global movements. I believe current day events will result in a healthier, safer and less-impoverished world, and that the baton will be passed on to the next generation of gendered and non-gender conforming leaders with bright, innovative ideas that align with a reimagined society that benefits the collective.

More on Akilah S. Wallace:

Akilah S. Wallace is the Executive Director of Faith in Texas, a nonpartisan, multi-racial and multi-faith grassroots movement of people united in values working together to achieve economic, racial and social justice for all people. She has two decades of experience as a relationship manager, with expertise in nonprofit leadership, fund development, African-American media sales, and project management.

Wallace’s love for connecting community organizations with financial and in-kind resources has resulted in millions of revenue support. She is currently pursuing a degree in Human Services Management & Leadership at the University of North Texas at Dallas and has earned a Nonprofit Management Certificate from the Center for Nonprofit Management in Dallas, TX.

Akilah’s philanthropic leadership includes the founding of HERitage Giving Fund at Moore Impact, a Black women’s giving circle that has awarded $100,000+ in grants to Black women-led nonprofits; and #BlackDFWGives, an educational and inspiring, online initiative seeking to elevate platforms for philanthropy education, charitable giving and future generations of philanthropists of color.

Her distinguished honors include the 2021 Inaugural Black Women Give Back List, 2019 Young Black and Giving Back Institute Philanthropist of the Year, Dallas Business Journal 40 Under 40 and The Dallas Foundation Top 10 Good Works Under 40 Award. Akilah is a founding member of Power in Action, charter member of the Texas Women’s Foundation’s XIX Society and a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters. Her servant leadership extends onto community advisories, boards and other opportunities for volunteerism. Akilah is also a 2018 Dallas Public Voices Greenhouse, Op Ed fellow and sought-after public speaker. At home, Akilah is the proud mother to college student and businessman, Jamel and student-athlete, Jayce. Her mantra is: “There is no royal flower-strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it for if I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard,” a quote from Madame C.J. Walker.

This interview has been minimally edited.

Author: Julia Travers

I often cover innovations in science, the arts and social justice. Find my work with NPR, Discover Magazine, APR and Earth Island Journal, among other publications. My portfolio is at
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Candid launches ‘U.S. social sector’ dashboard | Philanthropy news

Candid has launched a U.S. Social Sector Dashboard, a free resource designed to “demystify” the sector by providing data on its scope, constraints, and potential.

Developed with funding from Amazon Web Services and Vanguard Charitable, the dashboard offers key data and insights about the makeup and impact of civil society, including previously unreleased statistics on the racial composition of leaders and funding flows to charities. According to the dashboard, the social sector, which employs 12.5 million people, comprises more than 1.81 million nonprofit organizations: 501(c)(3) charitable organizations (80 percent), which include public charities (73 percent) and private or community foundations (7 percent); 501(c)(4) advocacy and social welfare groups (4 percent); 501(c)(6) business associations (4 percent); 501(c)(7) social and recreation clubs (3 percent); labor unions and other 501(c)(5) groups (3 percent); and fraternal societies categorized as 501(c)(8) and 501(c)(10) organizations (2 percent).

According to the dashboard, religious organizations currently make up 18 percent of public charities, followed by those focused on human services (17 percent), community and economic development (15 percent), education (14 percent), sports and recreation (8 percent), arts and culture (7 percent), philanthropy and nonprofit management (7 percent), health (7 percent), and the environment and animal welfare (4 percent). In terms of funding flow, in 2018 public charities received $292 billion in contributions from individuals, $76 billion from foundations, $40 billion from bequests, and $20 billion from corporations; $174 billion in government support; and $1.6 trillion in earned income.

And among reporting nonprofits, 60 percent of CEOs identified as white, 10 percent as Black, 5 percent as Latinx, 3 percent as Asian/AAPI, 1 percent as Native American/Indigenous, 3 percent as multiracial/multiethnic, and 1 percent as additional ethnicities, while 17 percent did not disclose. Among board members, 66 percent were white, 15 percent Black, 7 percent Latinx, 5 percent Asian/AAPI, 1 percent Native American/Indigenous, 2 percent multiracial/multiethnic, and 0.4 percent additional ethnicities, while 4 percent did not disclose.

“Candid exists to get people the information they need about the social sector to do good. Many of our tools focus on one organization, one grant, or one issue at a time; that kind of focus can be critical for decision makers,” said Candid executive vice president Jacob Harold. “This new dashboard builds on that focus by offering a fuller picture of the social sector as a whole. We hope that this tool will help people build a better understanding of the nonprofit and philanthropic ecosystem and its central role in our society.”

(Photo credit: GettyImages/Prostock Studio)

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UW–Madison receives $20 million for Letters & Science building | Philanthropy news

The University of Wisconsin–Madison has announced a $20 million lead gift from brothers and alumni Jeff Levy (’72) and Marv Levy (’68, JD ’71) in support of a new academic building in the College of Letters & Science.

Construction on Irving and Dorothy Levy Hall, named for the parents of Jeff and Marv, is expected to begin in 2023 and be completed in 2025. Once complete, the building will establish a unified home for the Department of History and nine other L&S academic departments, programs, and centers that currently are spread across eight facilities on campus. The five-story building will feature nineteen classrooms as well as a space where students can gather and interact informally with each other and their instructors to maximize collaboration.

The Levy brothers own and operate Phillips Distributing Corporation in Madison. Their commitment was contingent upon the Wisconsin state legislature and governor including the project in the 2021-23 state budget with $60 million in state support, which occurred earlier this year.

“We envision this vital new facility as a highly collaborative and state-of-the-art learning environment for all,” said College of Letters & Science dean Eric Wilcots. “We are immensely grateful to the Levy family for their support of this vision. Our students deserve classroom space that enhances interactive learning and engagement through cutting-edge technology. They also deserve a building that inspires, rather than intimidates. The Levy family’s gift will reverberate through future generations, touching many lives.”

“We are proud to help make this building a reality. We hope it will be a central educational location for the undergraduate experience at UW-Madison,” said Marv Levy. “Our hope is that by honoring our family legacy of charitable giving with this gift, we can offer to future generations some of the opportunity that the UW has provided us.”

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U.S. nonprofit sector uneven in impact and recovery, report finds | Philanthropy news

While nonprofits have contributed significantly to U.S. society and economy in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the health of the sector is uneven in both impact and recovery, a new report from Independent Sector finds.

Based on aggregated survey and research data from multiple sources in four categories — financial resources, human capital, governance and trust, and public policy and advocacy — the second edition of the Health of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector (43 pages, PDF) found that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic varied by subsector and organization size, with arts organizations and those that rely on fees for service hit especially hard. Yet, even as 40 percent of nonprofits saw declines in total revenue and all subsectors except social services saw drops in gross output, the sector contributed 5.9 percent of GDP in 2020 — up 0.4 percentage points from 2019. And while 57 percent of nonprofits cut overall expenses, 64 percent suspended services, 44 percent reduced the number of programs or services, and 47 percent reported serving fewer people in 2020, Independent Sector’s Trust in Civil Society survey found that, as of early 2021, 57 percent of surveyed Americans had received nonprofit services and 84 percent expressed confidence in the ability of nonprofits to strengthen American society, up 3 percentage points from 2020.

According to the report, the sector’s advocacy efforts in 2020 helped secure notable federal resources that served as financial lifelines to nonprofits, particularly through the Paycheck Protection Program, payroll tax credits, and temporary universal charitable deduction. In addition, a study by Nonprofit VOTE found that voter engagement efforts helped reach underrepresented communities and narrow participation gaps.

The report outlines recommendations in each category to strengthen the sector, including prioritizing flexible funding, developing a shared understanding of equitable financing, promoting evidence-based practices to close workforce diversity and equity gaps, building capacity of virtual volunteering, improving the quality and depth of metrics for equity and “healthy” governance, improving digital access and literacy, and establishing public policy advocacy as a core competency of nonprofit management and governance.

“We have much to do to build the nation we, as changemakers, dream of becoming,” wrote Independent Sector president and CEO Dan Cardinali in the report’s foreword. “What can galvanize us to greater positive action? It’s that the everlasting human qualities of resilience, kindness, and collaborating for collective progress do not fade easily. They are within our grasp every day, giving all of us hope and confidence. The health of our nation is the sum of the richness and diversity of our members and sectors working together, elevating dignity, honoring our differences, and building for the common good.”

(Photo credit: Los Angeles Regional Food Bank)

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