Racial justice organizations report a bump in donations. Will the moment last?

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Bail funds in the Philadelphia area and beyond are seeing more people dip into their wallets as the protests continue against police brutality and racism. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Bail funds in the Philadelphia area and beyond are seeing more people dip into their wallets as the protests continue against police brutality and racism. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Caitlin Maffei, a white woman living in Atlantic County, has never been as vocal about her belief that Black lives matter than she is now.

“I didn’t want to make anybody uncomfortable back then, but I think now was the time to not care if you make somebody uncomfortable or not,” said Maffei. “It means life or death for some people.”

For Maffei, fighting systemic racism has meant going out to several protests in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis, and learning, as well as teaching others, about racism.

And despite being furloughed from her customer service job, Maffei is backing her beliefs with her wallet. She’s currently signed up to give modest monthly contributions to Black Lives Matter, the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union.

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“Even $5 or $10 a month, even that little amount still makes some sort of a difference to the organization,” Maffei said.

It seems she’s not the only one who’s giving. Though it’s too soon to have concrete data regarding donations, many organizations that work in the realm of racial justice have reported an increase in financial contributions.

The Minnesota Freedom Fund, one of the more extraordinary examples, has received $31 million in donations over the past several weeks. That’s compared to the $150,000 the bail fund had when it filed its 2018 taxes.

The impulse to give has made a significant impact in the Philadelphia region, too.

The Philadelphia Bail Fund received $2.4 million since protests broke out, according to an update from the organization at the beginning of the month.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, which helps people with expunging their criminal records and obtaining pardons, has seen a similar boost, though on a smaller scale.

Ryan Allen Hancock, co-founder and board chair of the organization, said it typically receives about $100,000 a year from individual donors. This year, donors filled its coffers with $75,000 in the weeks after protests began.

Still, there are a lot of groups and causes to choose from, and how people like Maffei choose to donate varies almost as much as the reasons why they give. Here are some things to consider when making a contribution.

Becoming a repeat donor helps organizations plan

It’s not the first time people have opened their wallets to express their beliefs. A similar wave of funds glibly dubbed “rage donations” or a “Trump bump” flooded organizations after the election of President Donald Trump.

Maffei was one of the people who began sending monthly contributions to the ACLU after going to the Women’s March in Washington. Though she did not renew after a couple of years, the fact Maffei donated as long as she did is pretty good, according to what is known about donors.

Laura MacDonald is the vice-chair of the Giving USA Foundation, which produces an annual report on “the sources and uses” of charitable giving nationwide. In the world of philanthropy, donor retention is the key to success, she said.

“We know that those rage donations generally were one-time gifts, not repeatable,” she said, adding that first-time donor retention for organizations usually hovers at 20%.

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While a wave of contributions is impressive, it can overwhelm an organization used to working with a smaller budget and staff, MacDonald said. For example, the Minnesota Freedom Fund had to stop accepting donations to figure out how to spend the millions it received.

MacDonald is not suggesting that people close their checkbooks. Instead, she suggests they consider a sustainer approach — smaller repeat contributions that organizations can count on for the long haul.

“If an organization could increase their retention from 20% of first-time donors to 25% of first-time donors, that could be several hundred thousand dollars of revenue a couple of years down the road,” she said.

Do research, to ensure your money goes to where you want it to

Just last week, there were reports the Black Lives Matter Foundation had raised millions in the weeks after the George Floyd protests began. Except the foundation has no relation to the global Black Lives Matter movement. As protesters continue to take to the streets calling for the defunding of police, the foundation aims to create unity between police departments and their communities through events like coffee with a cop and dinners.

Donors felt similarly misled by a “Justice for George Floyd” Change.org petition asking for donations. The money raised covers operating expenses and does not go to Floyd’s family.

In an effort to make sure their money goes directly to those who need it at a faster pace, Bucks County resident Brit Montoro has donated to mutual aid and grassroots groups over the past four years.

In addition to gifts made out to organizations such as the Third Wave Fund and Black Mama’s Bail Out, Montoro likes to contribute to mutual aid groups and GoFundMe campaigns helping Black people directly.

Montoro, who is a white trans person, said they find fundraisers through their known networks, which are more trustworthy. “One of the issues that’s coming up now in terms of contributing to nonprofits is that there are white people who are profiting off of BLM, using BLM logos and merchandise to get money.”

Being able to show solidarity with other marginalized people, whether LGBTQ+ or Black people, influences their giving, Montoro said. At the same time, Montoro believes they are privileged because others see Montoro as white before seeing Montoro as trans.

“It’s really important that whiteness is the issue that’s being confronted,” said Montoro. “That’s why straight white women, or white trans people, or white disabled people all have to put their money where their mouth is because whatever axis of identity that exists is still after white.”

Giving Black businesses a boost

Allison Bolomey organized a march in Gloucester County this month and she raised money, which a company matched, to donate about $1,400 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

But she prefers to back Black-owned businesses.

“I just like to do things on the side that actively help, you know, go right into the pockets of the Black community,” she explained.

For example, there is a baker near Bolomey who sells baked goods out of her home. Bolomey has been making purchases whenever the baker has inventory available. Recently, she learned two restaurants she liked were Black-owned —  The Wing Kitchen and Caribbean Paradise — so now she’s making a point to go more frequently and even spend more.

Bolomey doesn’t have a set amount of money she plans to spend at Black-owned businesses. Instead, she’s looking for Black-owned businesses that can sell her what she’s looking to buy.

“I just look it up and see how much it’s going to cost me,” she said. “Let me see how much it is on Amazon. Oh look, there’s a local business that also sells the same thing. It’s Black-owned, and it’s either the same price, maybe it’s a couple dollars more, maybe it’s a couple of dollars less. Regardless, you know that’s where I’m going to go.”

On the eighth straight day of protests in Philadelphia, demonstrators called for an end to police brutality on the steps of the Art Museum. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Can this momentum last? That’s on you

Can organizations fighting for racial justice count on the continued flow of donations? Well, Giving USA’s MacDonald said it’s something she’ll be keeping an eye on, though this moment appears to be different.

It’s a sentiment echoed by donors and Una Osili, associate dean of research at Indiana University’s Lilly School of Philanthropy.

The current wave of giving didn’t happen in a vacuum, said Osili. In many ways, she said, the pandemic laid bare racial inequalities in the country. Donors told WHYY the video showing the killing of George Floyd was the tipping point.

Osili has been tracking philanthropic giving since the start of COVID-19. The data is still being collected, but she said early numbers indicate people were already paying attention to issues of race and ethnicity when writing out checks. People of color made up a disproportionate number of essential workers, and the country quickly became aware that the transition to virtual learning wouldn’t be easy for all students — she pointed to philanthropic efforts required to get students tablets.

“Given the breadth and the scale of the movements that we’re seeing not just in the United States, but globally, I do think we’re seeing a sustained momentum around these issues,” she said.

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