By Pamela Oakes
As a nonprofit Fund Development Consultant, I often explain what I do as “empowering nonprofit social impact enterprises with tools and resources for achieving funding sustainability.” However, I am starting to rethink that definition. According to the dictionary, empowerment is “the granting of the power, right, or authority to perform various acts or duties.” That implies, however, that power is ONLY something to be conferred – or in other words, someone with power has to grant power. While there are certain powers that can be conferred, the strongest power is intrinsic.
I have a Black, nonprofit client who just gifted backpacks filled with school supplies to 147 students in South King County and will once again distribute Christmas gifts to over 300 children in need. Another client of mine is minimizing chronic health disparities in the Black community through increased access to whole health fitness, nutrition education practices. Yet another African-American client is addressing the displacement of communities of color due to gentrification by ensuring affordable housing options in Seattle’s historical Black neighborhoods. These clients – and there are many, many, many more examples – did not wait for someone to bestow upon them power to affect change, but rather they released the power already in their possession.
We mistakenly equate power with wealth. Because wealth is merely the accumulation of resources, on its own, it is only useful in a market economy. Influence, however, is useful in all economies and in all societies. Black communities survive and thrive not because of the mercy and kindness of benevolent benefactors – it is because we continue to exercise our own power to influence our own communities. Which, by the way, is what we have always done. If gun-toting, beret-wearing, revolutionaries with big afros is the image conjured up when you think of the Black Panthers, it’s worth remembering that the Free Breakfast for Children Program was one of the more than 60 community social programs created by the Black Panther Party. Along with the creation of healthcare clinics and their own ambulance services, these programs came to be known as the Survival Programs.
Whether the Black Panthers of the past or the service-oriented nonprofits right around the corner, these disrupters are nothing unique in the Black community. In fact, it has been the way of the Black community since there was a Black community in America. We have always taken care of our own and had we not, we surely would have died out by now waiting on the largesse of ‘Uncle Sam’ for preservation! The history of Blacks in America is the history of a system that at every turn has set out to strip, undermine, disperse and eradicate the Black community; 250years of slavery; 90 years of Jim Crow; 60 years of separate and unequal; 35 years of racist housing policies; 25 years of disproportional mass incarceration…and still we rise.
I was featured recently on a radio broadcast speaking about Legacy Giving/Planned Giving as a means for ensuring the continued longevity of causes and organizations contributing to the viability and vibrancy of the Black community. It is by recycling our wealth and resources that we can preserve the future benefit. Now that truly is empowerment – Power OF the people, FOR the people and TO the people!
Pamela J. Oakes, Managing Director of The Profitable Nonprofit, is a funding consultant helping small and emerging nonprofits achieve funding sustainability. Pamela previously worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.