Inside out: Cultivating philanthropic leaders to spearhead community change

By Tracey Dorsett

Amid a shifting social, economic and political landscape, communities of color in Asheville are examining creative and innovative strategies to facilitate community change. Community-driven and focused on place, these individual efforts are creating some much-needed synergy and sparking important conversations that lead back to a single question for leaders: “How can we collectively create supportive networks, accelerate change and seed new initiatives to address the most vexing social issues facing communities of color in Asheville and the region?”

This question is being raised in the face of staggering economic, housing, health and poverty statistics about African-American and Latino communities in a part of the state where communities of color account for a relatively smaller portion of the total population. The resulting conversations are encouraging communities to collectively think about how they can pool their resources and talents to create a platform for individuals to drive social change.

In August, communities of color across the globe celebrate Black Philanthropy Month, making conversations about roles, innovation and seeding opportunities particularly timely. Created by the African Women’s Development Fund USA in 2011, this annual, global celebration of giving by people of African descent invites all black communities and their allies to promote the power of collective giving to transform lives and facilitate social change. Community-driven philanthropy also cultivates a pipeline of leaders, transferring knowledge and leveraging financial, social and intellectual capital to address key community issues. But the importance of these vital tasks doesn’t end on Aug. 31: Instead, it continues year round.

Philanthropy, literally “the love of mankind,” is voluntary giving by an individual or group to promote the common good. Traditionally it’s been facilitated by formal institutions — foundations, endowments or private benefactors, often with limited diversity in their leadership structure. What I’m talking about, however, is community-driven giving, in which African-Americans and Latinos in leadership positions pool their time, talent and resources to accelerate community change. It’s fostered through “giving circles,” built on the premise that empowering a group of individuals to prioritize community issues from their own vantage point can produce long-lasting impacts.

Giving circles offer intriguing possibilities for creating a paradigm shift, replacing the current economic, health, education and poverty narrative for local communities of color with a new vision of resilience. And in the spirit of Black Philanthropy Month, local groups are coming together to create a giving circle for African-Americans and Latinos in Asheville and environs.

The planning process is already underway, and a kickoff event will happen Saturday, Sept. 20, from 6-9 p.m. at the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center. This event is produced by CoThinkk Consulting in collaboration with the Community Investment Network, a national organization, and key local partners including Date My City,Asheville411,WRES-LP 100.7,Sarah Nuñez Consulting and the CHIVA project. Participants will be able to learn more about giving circles, speak with national leaders in the movement, and promote leadership opportunities.

To join this conversation or raise questions or concerns, please contact Tracey Dorsett at

Asheville native Tracey Dorsett is the principal of CoThinkk Consulting and the board chair of The Center for Leadership Innovation. She has over 15 years’ experience in the philanthropic and nonprofit sector.


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