Arkansas Collaborative Promotes Equitable Giving to Black-Led Organizations

The new coalition acts as a conduit to resources for nonprofits and funders.

headshot of Arkansas Black Philanthropy Collaborative chairman Derek Lewis II
Derek Lewis II is chairman of the Arkansas Black Philanthropy Collaborative. Photo courtesy of ABPC.

When it comes to philanthropy, Black-led organizations are less likely to receive funding than their white peers. In 2020, Echoing Green and the Bridgespan Group released a study that found a $20 million racial funding gap between Black-led and white-led early-stage organizations. 

The Arkansas Black Philanthropy Collaborative is working to address this issue by approaching philanthropy through an equity lens, making sure people who didn’t have a seat at the table before, have an opportunity to be there now. 

“If we’re going to invest more dollars in minority communities, we’re going to invest dollars into equity issues, then you have to be in the conversation with those folks that are also leading those conversations and sometimes those conversations haven’t been had,” ABPC chairman Derek Lewis II says.

The new coalition’s origins stem from a presentation by Susan Taylor Batten, president and CEO of the Association for Black Foundation Executives. During a 2018 speech in Arkansas, Batten discussed the importance of organizing to contribute more effectively to solutions for communities of color. Inspired by her remarks, Rev. Cory Anderson, chief innovation officer at the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation met with several Black philanthropic leaders, including Lewis, to discuss how to implement Batten’s ideas in Arkansas. 

The Derek Lewis Foundation officially established ABPC in January 2021 with seed funding provided by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. ABPC operates under the umbrella of the Derek Lewis Foundation, a Little Rock-based nonprofit started by Lewis’ father in 1993 with a mission to improve community health through prevention and education. 

Lewis is APBC’s chairman and he works alongside consultant Kara Wilkins who serves as program manager. ABPC also has a steering committee that helps guide the collaborative as it “connects Black philanthropic leaders and designs Black-led solutions for social change in Arkansas.” There aren’t a lot of African Americans in decision-making positions in philanthropy, so ABPC wants to be a resource for professionals in those organizations, Lewis says. 

In addition to connecting funders with Black-led organizations, the collaborative is also assisting these organizations with capacity building so they can be better prepared when seeking funding. While donors may be considering giving in a more equitable way, Lewis says it’s important to think about the difference between charity and philanthropy.

“It’s not just giving money, but it’s being disruptive and changing systems that have prevented these persons of communities and organizations not to thrive,” he says.

The philanthropy world is evolving and discussions around equitable giving have come into focus, prompted by the nation’s racial reckoning following the deaths of Black Americans like Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. 

“Some of these high-profile issues have begun to stir conversations, or questions or thinking where they weren’t there before,” Lewis says. “These are not new issues, but these are sometimes new conversations.”

ABPC was part of that equity conversation while working with the Arkansas Community Foundation on its Building Black Communities Fund. In December 2020, Facebook announced ACF was one of 20 community foundations that would receive a $1 million grant to distribute to local nonprofits serving Black communities with a preference for Black-led organizations. 

Although 2021 was supposed to be an exploratory year for ABPC, that timeline was moved up when ACF reached out to partner on the grant distribution process. ABPC got to work and narrowed down more than 120 applications to 40 Central Arkansas nonprofits that were awarded funding in June 2021.

“[We] really got to see a variety of different organizations in Central Arkansas that are doing good work,” Lewis says. “I think some of these organizations, if they went through a normal process, wouldn’t have been able to get those types of funds.”

In addition to receiving funding, ABPC is assisting grant recipients with capacity building by leading educational sessions every other month. Discussions are underway about this year’s cohort which Lewis says will likely focus on Delta-based organizations. ABPC intends to scale the program down and work with fewer organizations so interactions can be more personal.

During its busy first year, ABPC also established the Give Black Arkansas Fund with the Arkansas Community Foundation. Donations to that fund are more discretionary and will be used to support the collaborative’s work. Lewis and his team are currently thinking through what the rest of this year will look like for them. So far, ABPC plans to build a website, produce a report on African American philanthropy, launch a podcast and help craft a social justice speaker series.  

This month, ABPC is participating in the Arkansas Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge along with the University of Central Arkansas Center for Community and Economic Development and the Arkansas Peace and Justice Memorial Movement. Lewis credits UCA for developing the challenge, which provides a virtual platform to engage Arkansans in daily learning activities to help them “develop more effective racial equity and social justice habits,” according to UCA officials. ABPC is participating for the first time in the challenge, which is in its second year, by curating philanthropy-focused content on Mondays throughout February. 

As far as long-term goals, Lewis wants ABPC to become nationally known by demonstrating how the work the collaborative is accomplishing in Arkansas can serve as a model for other communities across the country. Building bridges in the areas of economics, policy and advocacy will guide ABPC’s work into the future and Lewis acknowledges patience will be key in the process because creating change around equitable giving will take lots of partnerships and a generational shift. 

“I think this is a life work for most of us that are in the steering committee and I’m enjoying it, but we’ve got to build another generation of thinking,” he says. “That’s not just Black-led and Black-serving, that’s the community as a whole.” 

More information about the Arkansas Black Philanthropy Collaborative is available on the group’s Facebook page.  

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.