Three Ways Fundraisers Can Honor Black History Month


“Everyone has a responsibility in making things right. Everyone has a role in the process of healing, regardless of whether they caused or received more harm.” - Edgar Villanueva

I recently had the chance to attend a webinar in which a nonprofit leader, a black woman, shared a personal story about an interaction with a donor. In their encounter, the donor made an offensive comment about his perceptions of black culture a split second before handing her a check. In that moment, the nonprofit leader found herself trapped between the money her organization requires and her own personal dignity and well-being. 

There is endless work to be done to create a better and just world, from the outcomes our organizations pursue to the harm perpetuated within them. February is an opportunity to uplift the Black community and work to undo centuries of harm. It’s a chance to learn more about the experiences of Black leaders locally and around the world, and use our roles and agency as fundraisers for personal and systemic change. Here are three ways fundraisers can honor Black History this month and continually throughout our lives:


1. Learn: Take responsibility for learning about Black history now and throughout your lifetime. 
As black leaders continue to remind us: Black history is more than a month and not separate from what it means to be an American. Learning about it remains profoundly urgent in the wake of Tyre Nichols and public policy proposals of erasure. This month, take responsibility for learning the stories that connect us and commit to continual curiosity. Be transformed by books like Tonya Bolden’s, “M.L.K.: Journey of a King,” which will leave you rapt by the story of “M.L.’s” life and chronicles of the civil rights movement. Be left speechless by Clint Smith’s, “How the Word is Passed,” which illuminates the unspoken realities of slavery in America that we’ve ignored for far too long. Be inspired by the stories of local Black leaders like Frances Huntley-Cooper, who was Wisconsin’s first Black Mayor, serving as Mayor of the City of Fitchburg from 1991-1993. She was recently featured in Brava Magazine in an article titled, “The Power of One.” Author Shayna Mace notes that Wisconsin has elected only one Black mayor since - Cavalier Johnson, the current Mayor of Milwaukee.  Get to know Birgit Smith Burton, who AFP Global recently announced will be, “the first African American woman in AFP’s 61-year history to be voted chair of the AFP Global Board.”

2. Talk: Make meaning of Black history and its implications for us all through dialogue and conversation. 
As we’ve learned from organizations like YWCA Madison - a recipient of our 2022 National Philanthropy Day award for Outstanding Achievement in Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion - dialogue is an essential component of racial justice that propels action and change. This month, commit to sparking conversations at home and work about the impact of Black thinkers, leaders, and artists on your family and organization. At home, take pointers from Ibram X. Kendi’s “Antiracist Baby” on how to talk to your kids about race. Read stories together about the lives of incredible Black women in the “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls” series. At work, push to hold a discussion about how Black history impacts your organization. Take that a step further by committing to a team exploration of the work of Edgar Villanueva who is an award-winning author and expert on race, wealth, and philanthropy. Edgar calls on us all to ask how our personal histories shape our relationships to wealth. He asks us to consider how colonization, slavery, and oppression have shaped philanthropy.

3. Give: Invest financial resources in Black-led and Black-serving organizations.  

This last one only takes a click of a button yet it makes a tangible local impact. Support Black owned businesses. Donate to Black-centered issues and nonprofits. There are so many important ones all around us. The list below includes those I’ve learned of since moving here just over a year ago. (I offer it simply as a starting point. Please contact us to add your ideas.) If you can, go the extra mile, and follow the suggestions of Community Centric Fundraising: encourage your organization to make a contribution. Encourage your donors to make one, too. Giving money to support Black lives is an essential step towards change.

This Black History Month, we hope you will join us in prioritizing it lifelong through continual learning, conversation, and giving. We have so much work to do. Our actions can help heal us all.

List with links



About the Author

Mary Salisbury is an aspiring white ally who joined the AFP Board as IDEA Officer in January. She is Director of Philanthropy at Girls on the Run South Central Wisconsin where she works to expand relationships with donors, businesses, and foundations. She is on a continuous learning journey from countless teachers, tools and perspectives. She welcomes the chance to connect with you to grow equity through fundraising.

Special thank you to Abha Thakkar of Mosaic Consulting and Christine Benedict of Girls on the Run South Central Wisconsin for their vital contributions to this piece.