The Black Women & Girls Fund meets a critical need: operating support for under-resourced, overachieving organizations
BCF donors offer value well beyond their financial resources, bringing diverse perspectives and expertise that inform our strategies and maximize the impact of our grantmaking. One example of the unique insight donors can offer is Maria Johnson, founder and chairperson of The Black Women & Girls Fund (BWGF). A Black woman raised in a military family, Maria experienced a lot of cultural and geographic diversity while moving to numerous Southern states and the DMV area, finally settling in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia. A graduate of Hampton University, a historically Black college and university, Maria says, “As a first-generation college student, Hampton exposed me to a wide range of class diversity among Black students and families.” Maria went on to receive a joint Ph.D. in public policy and sociology from the University of Michigan, where she examined how biases in research and public policies have disproportionately impacted different groups of people, especially Black women and girls. While at Michigan and later as an assistant professor at the University of Delaware, Maria taught relevant subject matters and topics, including how charity has helped to effect social change and the challenges that arise when government entities rely too greatly on private philanthropy.
In 2018, after years of studying and teaching on proven program models for addressing racial and gender inequality and poverty, Maria thought about how she might contribute to advancing solutions in a more concrete way. The answer seemed clear: “Black women disproportionately give—financially and of their time—but organizations specifically focused on Black women and girls are often under-resourced.” She launched The Black Women & Girls Fund to support such organizations and spent the next year delving into the unique issues facing Black women and girls in Baltimore. “I read articles, I analyzed data, I met with people, and I matched what I was seeing with my research background, looking for program attributes that I knew could be transformative and change the trajectory long term for participants.” One finding Maria noted was the need for increased general support funding by donors and funders. “For smaller nonprofits, many leaders of color are working full time elsewhere…. They are spread thin, using their own personal resources and spending an inordinate amount of time doing paperwork for small amounts of restricted funding. These are driving factors for why I have chosen to make all of BWGF’s grants general support grants.”
Maria’s hope is that her small grants, given with the institutional backing of a BCF donor-advised fund, will help organizations leverage larger grants. She also sees her support as the beginning of a relationship in which she can offer technical assistance and connections to other experts as needs arise. “Growing up, there was a belief in my family that no one gets where they are by themselves and it’s important to give in all of the ways that we can,” says Maria. Giving in a multitude of ways—with funds, time, and access to social networks—is especially important for small organizations. “Most BWGF grantees have smaller budgets compared to larger nonprofit organizations that receive significant support from philanthropic funders,” says Maria. “Yet, I’m consistently amazed by the amount and type of work they accomplish. I look at MOMCares and its efforts to provide emergency grants to new mothers who sometimes suffer from post-birth challenges or Black Girls Cook, which delivered food to program participants to cook virtually for their entire family as part of the organization’s pandemic response. These organizations demonstrate a fiscal efficiency, always managing to do more with less.”