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Widening the Circle of Giving

An interview with “Philanthropy Across Cultures” panelist Dr. Ben Dixon

An interview with “Philanthropy Across Cultures” panelist Dr. Ben Dixon

Dr. Dixon is a veteran educator, Founder and President of Sankofa Futures Consulting and the current President of COLA Gives. As leader of a local African-American Giving Circles, Dixon offers a wealth of knowledge and an enlightening perspective on philanthropy.

Tell us briefly about your current philanthropic involvement as a donor?

Dixon: Currently, my philanthropic involvement is accomplished in two ways.  First, as Founder and President of Sankofa Futures Consulting, I have provided pro bonotechnical assistance and leadership coaching services to managers in local nonprofits. The second vehicle is my membership in COLA Gives, the first African American giving circle in South Carolina. The mission of our giving circle is to pool our time, talent and treasure to strategically support efforts to improve and strengthen the Black community. Both vehicles allow me as a donor to support the “first responders” in philanthropy in our community: the nonprofits who deliver direct support and help to improve the lives of those in need.

How does identity and/or culture play into your giving?

Dixon: COLA Gives focuses on supporting nonprofits and their work, rather than creating another inadequately funded and resourced vehicle to do the same work. In short, this maximizes the use of resources and increases the long-term impact and sustainability of the philanthropic effort.  We believe this approach is necessary to blunt the negative effect of the continuing social, economic, cultural and even racial disparities that are all too present in today’s environment.

What would you say to the younger generation to inspire and/ or educate them on the importance of giving?

Dixon: Philanthropy is not a spectator sport; all can play. Don’t be dissuaded or deterred by the “admission fee” some philanthropic opportunities require. There are always ways for the younger generation to share their talent, time, treasure and testimony to improve the community, the lives of its people and the effectiveness of its institutions. If you want to maximize your effort, join with others in giving circles or service learning projects at school or church. Remember, “we are all philanthropists,” in one way or the another. So, let’s be smart and strategic about how we do it…how we get it done.

What community interests and concerns shape how you give, personally and collectively?

Dixon: Personally, I am more interested in helping organized philanthropy become more effective, ethical, and equitable, than I am in supporting specific causes or servicing specific need categories over time. Why? Because connecting needs with limited resources will take care of itself. However, we must make sure those connections are accomplished in a way that maximizes resources, minimizes “quid pro quo” or political barriers, and increases diversity and inclusion among and between the donors and targeted beneficiaries.

What’s one insight you can offer to others outside your identity/ culture/community?

Dixon: Continue to focus on expanding and extending the conversations about and opportunities to participate in the philanthropy process. If we do this intentionally, collectively and openly, we may discover that, across identity/culture/ community, we have more in common
than the number of issues and barriers that separate us.

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