Today we’d like to introduce you to Akilah Wallace.
Akilah, please share your story with us.
I have spent over 15 years as a community volunteer and advocate. However, it wasn’t until I began my 4.5 year career at Dallas Women’s Foundation in 2012 that I was exposed to the power and influence of philanthropy from the perspective of individual giving. It was there I learned about the impact passionate, women philanthropists were having on the lives of countless women and girls. However, what intrigued me the most was the fact that the majority of women giving were white women, while most of the recipients served by their generous contributions were people of color. This energized me to research what philanthropy of color looked like in other cities and took me on a journey to discover the history and present-day impact of African-American philanthropy, and the introduction to giving circles.
In 2013, I launched a social media-based platform called Distinguished Ones: A Philanthropic Initiative. It served as my outlet for sharing what I was learning about philanthropy of color with my personal networks. Featuring the hashtag #BlackDFWGives, its purpose was to represent a movement. An educational and inspiriting initiative seeking to heighten the platform for philanthropy education and the next generation of Philanthropists of Color. Later, I had a rare encounter to meet the leadership of Community Investment Network, a national network of giving circles. It was afterwards that I decided I wanted to help start a giving circle in Dallas.
A moment I won’t soon forget is when I questioned a former executive at the Dallas Women’s Foundation why more women of color weren’t engaged and who the major Black philanthropists were in the area. The response I received was “I don’t know who they are, because not many have been brought to my attention as a major donor fundraiser; however, why don’t you find them and get them engaged”.
Over the course of about two years, I began having conversations with women throughout my networks about their interest in collective giving. Having served as a board member and volunteer for Black professional organizations and accumulated a significant circle of Black women friends, I felt the interest in such an endeavor was vast but more often, than not, these women had never been asked to contribute their funds to support causes outside of their church (tithes and offerings) or sorority (dues and scholarships). In my opinion, the growing number of successful and lucrative Black, professional women throughout North Texas was being overlooked or ignored as a viable target market for individual giving.
Fast forward to late 2016. My career transitioned from Dallas Women’s Foundation to fundraising for a social justice organization, Faith in Texas, however, I still hungered to engage women of color with philanthropy in a new way.
With a strong sense of “don’t keep talking about it”, Akilah reached out to two of her mentors, Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew and Halima Leak Francis to gauge their interest in supporting the giving circle. Both gave resounding “of course!” responses and accepted her invitation to take a leadership role with the giving circle alongside Akilah. So after several months of conference calls and back and forth discussions with Dallas Women’s Foundation, an agreement was finally executed, launching HERitage Giving Fund a donor advised fund at Dallas Women’s Foundation.
From what we’ve been able to research, HERitage appears to be the very first black/African-American giving circle in the state of Texas.
Founded August 2017, during Black Philanthropy Month, the mission of the HERitage Giving Fund is to encourage philanthropy in the African-American/Black community, to contribute in a strategic and meaningful way, and to bring a new source of funding to nonprofit organizations serving African-American women and girls throughout the North Texas area. The circle provides an opportunity to learn about issues and organizations that affect and impact the African-American/Black community. HERitage is committed to engaging Black women of varying economic status and backgrounds, who have a heart for investing in organizations, often grassroots, small to medium in size and/or startups. Often these organizations have limited access to funding sources to support basic operating needs (staff income, supplies, transportation, etc.), help to increase service capacity and reach, and sustain much-needed program services over time. This is why HERitage Giving Fund and other giving circles are important.
We launched HERitage Giving Fund with a reception on September 9, 2017. That day 13 women joined the giving circle. Since then membership has grown to 32 women committed to investing $500-$, 1000 by July 31, 2018 for collective grant making in the fall 2018. HERitage Giving Fund started with a goal to raise $25,000 (the minimum amount for a donor advised fund at Dallas Women’s Foundation) but because of the overwhelming interest in the fund, the goal has been increased to $50,000.
Today, I, along with Halima Leak Francis, Founding Co-Chair and Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew, Founding Grants Committee Chair, couldn’t be more proud or honored to launch such an inspiring movement for not only the Black philanthropists/members of the giving circle, but for the Black women who lead the organizations that now have another funding option AND the Black women and girls who will feel the impact of the giving circle’s investments. Our hopes that everyone involved will see themselves as threads woven together in a beautiful circle representative of the Black heritage and legacy HERitage Giving Fund is committed to honor.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
No, it has not been a smooth road but it hasn’t exactly been rocky either. The only struggle I experienced was early on when I first began working on the giving circle but was still employed at Dallas Women’s Foundation. I’ve never been concerned with having to be the “founder” of anything (although I have founded several things) but when I began to build piece my ideas together for the giving circle, knowing I wanted it to focus on Black women, I was faced with a dilemma. There was no way I could serve in a leadership role (better yet be recognized as the founder) for the giving circle as an employee of the Foundation. Especially since it made the most sense for the giving circle (fund) to be held there and not at another community foundation. Also, it was imperative to me that the giving circle be birthed out of the community and not to appear as a “project/strategy” of the Foundation, targeting Black women.
This caused me to slow down my efforts to start the giving circle and reflect on what was the best option. Did I want to hand over my years of research, member prospects and ideas for the giving circle to someone else to take the lead? Or should I just let it lie dormant until my career led me away from Dallas Women’s Foundation. I chose the latter and dealt with the random encounters with women I had shared my giving circle idea with, as they asked me “what happened to the giving circle you were talking about?!?”
Ultimately a new career opportunity was presented to me I couldn’t pass up fall 2016. This led me away from my role at Dallas Women’s Foundation and immediately a fire was lit up inside of me to quickly move to get my giving circle up and running. So much time had passed and I knew the needs of the community were increasing, and I felt the giving circle could be another way to help them.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the HERitage Giving Fund story. Tell us more about the business.
HERitage Giving Fund was founded August 2017, during Black Philanthropy Month. The mission of the HERitage Giving Fund, a giving circle at Dallas Women’s Foundation, is to encourage philanthropy in the African-American/Black community, to contribute in a strategic and meaningful way, and to bring a new source of funding to nonprofit organizations serving African-American women and girls throughout the North Texas area. The circle provides an opportunity to learn about issues and organizations that affect and impact the African-American/Black community.
HERitage is committed to engaging Black women of varying economic status and backgrounds, who have a heart for investing in organizations, often grassroots, small to medium in size and/or start-ups. Often these organizations have limited access to funding sources to support basic operating needs (staff income, supplies, transportation, etc.), help to increase service capacity and reach, and sustain much-needed program services over time. This is why Heritage Giving Fund and other giving circles are important.
The HERitage Giving Fund awards grants to organizations that:
* are located in the North Texas area and serve African-American women and girls who live, work or study in North Texas area;
* are led by an African American woman at either the board or staff level;
demonstrate innovative and promising approaches to addressing the social and economic obstacles that are barriers to success for African-American women and girls;
*use both a gender lens and an African-American/Black cultural lens to frame effective strategies and create valuable opportunities for African-American women and girls; and,
* have a sound mission and objectives for the organization’s impact.
Additionally, HERitage Giving Fund provides members, donors, and friends with opportunities for Philanthropy Empowerment and member socials.
We are most proud of the warm reception we’ve received from the women in the community. These women are not the typical “known” philanthropists in Dallas, however, the majority are incredible and brilliant leaders in their own right. Each representing a different and unique picture of what a philanthropist looks like.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I won’t call it luck, rather, divine favor. Black women like myself (single, never married with children) are often seen as a stereotype or in the world of philanthropy, as the “recipient” of philanthropy not as the philanthropist. However, I’ve been blessed to share spaces with many of Dallas’ most wealthy and philanthropic individuals because I worked my butt off for years as an Executive Assistant, after being transferred to Dallas to work for Chase Home Finance in 2006.
Years prior to my transfer I began my career in marketing and advertising sales for black media outlets, TheUrbanStarr.com (the first event website in Ohio targeting urban professionals) and The Columbus Post (a weekly, multicultural publication). It’s important to note that these opportunities came to me shortly after dropping out of college my junior year to take care of my first son (conceived while in college and on track to graduating the following year with a Marketing degree). Luck have it, my best friend, Dawn Dickson, graduated from college in less than four years and founded TheUrbanStarr.com. She knew I was devastated over not completing my marketing degree so she invited me to try out the skills I learned while in school with her new company. This was the break that changed the trajectory of my life.
From there Dawn helped me get an Account Executive position with The Columbus Post and eventually Dawn and I started our own consulting business.
So I guess I’m lucky to have had the most generous and thoughtful best friend ever. Thanks to her I was able to put into practice skills and hands on learned knowledge in order to build a viable career. One where I learned how to ask for money to sponsor events, money for advertising space and money for just about anything someone needed to ask money for. As long as it was for something positive.
Fast forward to today and I’ll say God carried divine favor over my life, career and business aspirations for as long as I can remember.
- Membership $500+
- Voting Membership $1,000+
- Website: dallaswomensfdn.org/heritagegivingfund
- Phone: 972-878-3188
- Email: email@example.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HeritageGivingFund
- Twitter: twitter.com/heritagegf