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Smith: The African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis

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My first column in August was an homage to Black Philanthropy Month. I received a lot of feedback from people who had never heard of this culturally significant annual celebration, which signaled to me that I needed to share at least one practical way in which people might get involved. Though this week’s column appears a couple days into September, I thought it fitting to close out last month by highlighting the work of the African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis (AALFI).

AALFI is what is known as a donor-advised fund (DAF). A donor-advised fund is a philanthropic tool that an individual (or group of people) creates to support one or more IRS-designated nonprofit organizations. AALFI is housed at the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF), which is a major philanthropic organization that is based in Indianapolis. Kiahna Davis, who is a successful local entrepreneur, serves as AALFI’s inaugural president. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I serve as AALFI’s donor engagement chair. I also work for the Hamilton County Community Foundation, which is an affiliate of CICF.)

AALFI was conceived by a group of African Americans who wanted to expand their involvement in philanthropy in a more formal and structured way. They also wanted to encourage collective action across the spectrum of Indianapolis’ Black community — not just with the middle and upper classes. Their lofty aspiration led to serious discussions. Those discussions matured into a proposal. That proposal evolved into an entity that now boasts roughly 80 founding members who have raised more than $300,000. (That amount does not include the recent $150,000 Season for Sharing partnership in which AALFI engaged with the IndyStar, its readers and the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.)

AALFI has been working diligently to build its operational structure. The organization’s goal is to begin awarding grants every August via its Giving Circle Fund. In addition to monetary donations, AALFI prides itself on volunteerism. (The organization has no employees.) Volunteers may serve on one or more of six committees: Communications, Community Engagement, Donor Engagement, Finance, Grants and Membership.

In my earlier column, I referred to the fact that African Americans give the highest percentage of their disposable income to philanthropy of any racial group in the country. We do so in large measure due to our religious faith, but also from a shared commitment to “uplift the race.” While churches still tend to be the primary beneficiaries of our giving, our philanthropic modes of expression are very broad, including education, poverty reduction, crime prevention, youth engagement and myriad other worthy causes.

In the words of Ms. Davis: “Black people must continue to do what we’ve always done, which is to dedicate our time, talent, treasure, and testimony to the uplift of our people. Research confirms that African Americans are the most philanthropic group of people in our nation. Let’s continue in this legacy and do our part to promote philanthropy and harness African Americans’ collective power to impact our community positively.”

As I referenced above, AALFI currently has more than 80 founding members, with a goal to reach 100. To become a member, or to donate or volunteer without becoming a member, simply visit CICF’s website. (Please note that one is not required to become a founding member in order to get involved.)

While there are many legitimate reasons to be concerned about the mental, physical, economic and spiritual health of the African American community — locally and nationally — it is equally important to pause and remember that we have overcome a great deal. We heartily celebrate those victories, even as we recognize that we still must lift as we climb. I readily acknowledge that I’m biased, but AALFI offers an exceptional way in which to meet that goal.

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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