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The trajectory of my life changed when I received my acceptance letter to Howard University 25 years ago. Upon arriving home from my part-time job at Burlington Coat Factory, my father was proud to tell me I had mail.

When I saw the white envelope with blue letters in the top left corner from the university’s Office of Admissions, I ripped opened the letter to find I was selected for admission to the historically Black, private university’s freshman class of 1993.

Black philanthropy made it possible for me to pay for my first year of college.

Service organizations like the Prince Hall Masons, The Links, the Wisconsin Association of Black State Employees and Women in Focus all provided me with partial scholarships.

Those scholarships supplemented an American Family Insurance four-year scholarship and other sources of grants and financial aid, totaling more than $25,000.

According to a study on charitable giving by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, nearly two-thirds of African-American households donated to organizations and causes that helped myself and others improve our quality of life. These donations routinely total over $11 billion each year.

Data in that same study found that on average, African-American households give 25 percent more of their income annually than white households and that aggregate charitable giving for Blacks is increasing at a faster rate than are their incomes and financial worth.

“If you’re an usher at your church, and you welcome people into service every week, you’re a philanthropist. If you volunteer as a coach, and you pour yourself into the lives of young people, you’re a philanthropist,” explained Tyrone Freeman, assistant professor of philanthropic studies and director of undergraduate programs at Indiana University. “If you’re part of a giving circle, you pool your resources together with other like-minded people to start a scholarship or to provide some other service in the community, you’re a philanthropist.”

The key to being an effective benefactor is understanding the issues and areas of opportunity your donated time, talent or treasure attempts to impact.

To help prepare those interested in doing good, the United Way of Greater Atlanta offers its Volunteer Involvement Program. The 10-week, 40-hour VIP training gives participants the tools to serve as effective board members of local nonprofit agencies. Workshops include fundraising, strategic planning, marketing and financial and legal decision making during the spring, summer and fall seasons.

Selected participants come from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, professions and areas of community service.

Ryan Anderson, a vice president for SunTrust Bank, is a United Way VIP alum. At the suggestion of former managers and mentors, he decided to sign up.

He has since served as a director on five different nonprofit boards impacting the areas of economic development and other equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives.

“The big takeaway for me is learning the requirements, responsibilities and risks associated with board membership,” Anderson said. “Something as detailed as making sure a nonprofit startup secures board insurance to protect its directors from a level of personal liability is extremely valuable knowledge.”

And, that knowledge is power. Black philanthropy has historically been an effective tool of empowerment in the struggle to achieve social and economic justice.

The compassion and benevolence of others equipped me with the skills and abilities to become the first person in my family to graduate college and achieve homeownership. My intention is to pass it on.

Get involved:

The following 10 Atlanta-based non-profit organizations provide a myriad of causes and opportunities for which you can give your time, talent and treasures to:

United Way of Atlanta

The spring 2019 session of the Volunteer Involvement Program will open on Dec. 15, 2018. Call 404-527-7200 or email: vip@unitedwayatlanta.org.

Operation Hope

operationhope.org / 404-941-2919

National Black Arts Festival Inc. (NBAF)

nbaf.org / 404-730-6369

100 Black Men of Atlanta Inc.

100blackmen-atlanta.org / 404-525-6220

National Council of Negro Women Inc. (NCNW)

greateratlantancnw.org / 404-273-3227

The Links Inc., Atlanta Chapter

Atlantalinksinc.org / atlantachapterlinks@gmail.com

Prince Hall Masons

mwphglga.org / 770-994-1569

Jack and Jill Atlanta

jackandjillatlanta.org / correspondingsecretary@jackandjillatlanta.org

Southern Unity Movement, Inc. The Bayard Rustin Audre Lorde Community Breakfast

rustinlordeatl.org / 404-441-4827

ZAMI NOBLA (National Organization of Black Lesbians on Aging)

Zaminobla.org / 404-647-4754

(Adobe Stock)

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