To our community:

Regardless of outcome, elections are pivotal moments for our country. They grant us clarity about the direction we are collectively heading in, and they offer us an opportunity to recommit to our values and to each other. That is why we must leverage this window of opportunity, and civic energy, to push harder to completely transform our institutions and our sector to be just, equitable, and life-affirming for every person. This transformation is only possible when we tap into the collective wisdom and knowledge of communities and movements, and this month’s Storyletter is a reminder of that.

Community philanthropy puts to use the talents, wisdom, power, and financial capital embedded in communities that are often overlooked by institutional philanthropy. As uprisings and protests continue to spring up all over the country, this is a moment in which we should be looking to these organizations to learn how to be in solidarity with our grantees and with the movement as a whole. This is how we strengthen our impact.

Join us as we learn about the nonstop outreach, sometimes difficult conversations, and infinitely rewarding work of community philanthropy with Dr. Charlotte Lewellen Williams and the Center on Community Philanthropy at the University of Arkansas.

In solidarity,


The Power of Giving Beyond Money: Community Philanthropy as a Pathway to Change

[8 min read]

For this month’s Storyletter, we met with Dr. Charlotte Lewellen Williams, Professor and Director of the Center on Community Philanthropy at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

“I think that fighting for social justice and advancing racial equity is the biggest challenge we have as  a society and as a world right now. I absolutely believe that philanthropy, specifically community philanthropy, is a powerful influence and a strategy for making that happen.”

[Image description: Headshot of Dr. Lewellen Williams smiling against a tan background in a red leather jacket.]

What exactly is the Clinton School Center on Community Philanthropy? 

Charlotte: The Center is dedicated to research, writing, teaching, practicing, and learning about community philanthropy as a strategy of delivering public service to advancing racial equity and promoting social justice. We are unique because there is no other center like ours, either in academia or in philanthropy. We are the only center that is grounded in and committed to building on the gifts and the strengths of the American South. We have a core staff, but we also have a whole cohort of scholars, residents, graduate assistants, and fellows—all of us make up the Center.

How would you define community philanthropy, and why is it important to the wider field of philanthropy and beyond? 

Charlotte: The Center of Community Philanthropy defines community philanthropy as the giving of time, talent, and treasure that when it is invested locally is characteristic of positive change and lasting development. Community philanthropy is a practice that helps people to understand the power of what they already give either personally, privately, or professionally and then to envision a future that comes from sustaining those assets. Our scholars are helping us define differently who philanthropists can be and what they look like.

What our scholars and researchers-in-residence and visiting philanthropy faculty are helping us to understand is how you can take this strategy and utilize it in a way that engages voices from the margins, and that we can bring the intersectionality of who we are as a people to bear on driving social change. That’s what is core to this philanthropy; it is challenging systems. We are trying to transform conditions. We’re not looking to resign ourselves to the status quo. Instead, we believe in bringing our best thinking to bear and leaving a body of leadership. That’s what the publications, compendiums and edited reports represent. They are really leadership once we’re all gone. It’s still going to live on and prove how we did what we did: redefining what a philanthropist looks like in the Arkansas and Mississippi Delta, in impoverished communities in the Bible Belt, and all across the Southern Region helping to understand very differently what that means in the context of philanthropy.

What do you think that institutional philanthropy can take away from what the Center is learning from the practice of community philanthropy?

Charlotte:  I want the field of philanthropy to remember that the movement for racial equity is still very much embedded in the community. I mean, just look at what we see happening right now—these are communities rising up, mobilizing, and organizing. Communities that decided that we want better, and that we’re going to have better. So engaging communities from the ground up still matters when it comes to real change because I am convinced that the answers will never come from some big faraway organization. They come from real people, in real situations, living real circumstances, day in and day out.

We’ve learned that you can’t just throw money at anything anymore. [Institutional] philanthropy sees now that without local folks participating in their own change, accountable for their own progress, and their voices being a part of the process, you may have a project, but for long-term sustainability, it takes both of those things happening at the same time—philanthropic investment and community engagement.  I would hope philanthropy can realize that for sustaining change there needs to be what we believe is community philanthropy or grassroots philanthropy, where folks are part of the process.

“I would hope philanthropy can realize that for sustaining change there needs to be what we believe is community philanthropy or grassroots philanthropy, where folks are part of the process.”

– Charlotte

What do racial equity conversations look like in the South? 

Charlotte: The reality is that people in the South are still dealing with very embedded long-term, long-sustaining experiences with racism. There’s reluctance, and quite frankly there’s still remnants of fear left over from Jim Crow laws, so this is the setting in the South. That’s why it takes intentional, on-purpose conversations with people committed to having a dialogue without pulling back or shutting down. We believe that framing the conversations and just refusing to shut down or or walk away is so important, but it requires an understanding of that context. It also looks like people being courageous and using vocabulary and terminology that focuses on the impact of racism and not on the person.

Having that dialogue requires courage. It requires consistency, because I found that you have dialogue, and you’ve got to have dialogue again. Findings from The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy report that people need to have the availability of information and be able to use the information in order to understand an issue. In other words, people need to understand an issue to impact an issue. And sometimes that requires that you supplement local wisdom with wisdom that’s either not available or not in circulation. So when we bring in folks who spend their time studying critical race theory or  studying race in the media, it supplements the wisdom and helps the dialogue. That’s what the Center does. We will take our scholar-in-residence from UCLA to the Mississippi Delta. We will take our visiting researcher from the University of Puerto Rico to Central Arkansas. We will host a community conversation on race and media, which we have done, and that helps to supplement, not replace the local wisdom.

Academia and places of higher learning have historically struggled with power and privilege. How have you navigated that?

Charlotte: You’re absolutely right about that. There’s that history of the power dynamic, and then you couple that with what has happened to the African American community in the context of basic research and how populations have been treated, so there’s that. Putting “community” in the title of our name was very intentional. We’re very clear from the very beginning of the kind of philanthropy that we’re talking about. This is a different kind of philanthropy because these states—Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana—they’re considered some of the poorest states in the country, but every year they rank at or near the top in charitable giving by the Internal Revenue Service, so we’re not talking about the rich giving to the poor. Instead we’re exploring innovations in community generosity and how you formalize them for long-term sustainability.

Keep in mind that positioning the Center within an academic setting was also very intentional because it expands our influence to students, faculty, staff and nonprofits. I teach a course in the Clinton School of Public Service graduate program entitled Philanthropy Leadership and the Nonprofit Sector. In fact, the classroom is another way we engage our scholars in residence. So through the school we have an ongoing captive audience of individuals learning about community philanthropy bringing their energies and fresh ideas to this work in a way that we believe helps them become that next generation of social change activists and advocates in the community.

Charlotte:  The other thing that I have found is to surround myself with people who are organizers, who are comfortable being in community, who have got a level of connectedness to the community, so when they come into this setting, that helps us to be able to take this work to the population level. Another piece of what we found is taking this work to the people. When we have community conversation, sometimes we are driving late at night on a dark road, and we’re going into communities and having this dialogue in their setting where people can come after work, and we feed folks. It’s a tradition in a lot of settings, but fellowshipping over food is really a tradition in the South.

The Center also maintains a commitment to nonprofits to provide capacity building and leadership development with an emphasis on leaders of color. Our Nonprofit Leadership Forum Series is a platform of learning sessions that are free and open to the public on topics crucial for organizational success like evaluation, DEI, and succession planning. We do this because communities rely heavily on the nonprofit sector as a safety net, not just for services but also for employment especially in small rural areas. Helping ensure nonprofits survive and thrive is good for all of us.  That’s something else the Center does.

How does someone get more involved with the Center on Community Philanthropy? 

If you are interested in being a partner, scholar-in-residence, or visiting researcher, Dr. Lewellen Williams says, “You have to care about the community and about people, and really want to make change because we absolutely believe that change happens locally and believe in the power of community. And you have to be willing to come and hang out in the South for a while.” Get in touch with Charlotte here.

Read the full interview here

REP Network and Ecosystem At A Glance

“This Is No Fleeting Crisis–It’s the New Normal. Are Foundations Ready to Get Serious?” Inside Philanthropy by Ryan Schlegel, Director of Research at NCRP. This article challenges philanthropy’s desire to “return to normal” post-COVID and racial uprisings, and considers ways philanthropy can–and should–transform itself permanently.

Philanthropy OUTlook: LGBTQ Black Communities Report, by ABFE and Funders for LGBTQ Issues. This report delves into the realities and needs of LGBTQ Black communities and offers recommendations for funders interested in supporting LGBTQ Black communities and Black-led organizations. Download the full report here.

Apply for the Clinton School Center on Community Philanthropy Advancing Equity Award. Are you a nonprofit or grassroots organization with a passion for promoting equity and inclusion in innovative ways? Application deadline is November 24.

Deaconess Foundation’s Power Moves Assessment Results. As the first foundation to publish assessment results from utilizing NCRP’s Power Moves toolkit, Deaconess Foundation share their findings here.

Google grants $3M to Hispanics in Philanthropy’s PowerUp Fund! Read about how HIP is championing economic justice for Latino communities with the PowerUp Fund here.

Pat’s first year at APIP. Join us in celebrating Pat Eng’s one-year anniversary as CEO at AAPIP. And ICYMI: Last month, AAPIP released a groundbreaking report on the state of AAPI philanthropy. Read the full report here.

PEAK Grantmaking: Recognizing Dolores Estrada. We also celebrate Dolores’ second PEAK anniversary. Read the full interview between Satonya Fair and Dolores here.

Facing Race National Conference by Race Forward, November 10-12, 2020. “Facing Race is the largest multiracial, inter-generational gathering for organizers, educators, creatives, and other leaders.” This year’s conference is going virtual. Register here, and follow the latest updates via their blog and Twitter.