Linda Randolph got to know Harlem through its children. She trained as a pediatrician there, and her love for the community was still fresh in her mind years later when she became a philanthropist.
"I was always struck by some of the negative stereotypes ... versus what I saw in terms of the strengths of many of the families living in Harlem," she says. "[I realized] that perhaps we weren't capitalizing on those strengths as much as we could, and that there ought to be a way for me personally to give back to the community that helped me to become a doctor."
In 1998 she founded the Fund for Greater Harlem, designed to give grants to unsung heroes who are meeting key needs such as education and healthcare.
Long overlooked, donations by minorities are gaining attention and clout. In the New York metro region, for example, a recent study of 166 donors of color found that their charitable giving in the past year ranged from $200 to $1 million, with the median at $5,000. That's higher than the median for all donors in New York State - about $4,000 - although the interviewees also had incomes that were higher than average.
With African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans now the majority populations of New York and other large American cities, tapping into their charitable impulses becomes more important.
"What we're seeing is the harvest of the generation that's been able to scale more of the corporate ladders," says Erica Hunt, executive director of The Twenty-First Century Foundation, which focuses on black philanthropy.
After decades of cutbacks in public funding for social services, there's a concerted effort under way to capitalize on their growing affluence. One example is the Coalition for New Philanthropy, which conducted the New York interviews to understand what motivates donors of color - and to promote more-strategic giving.
Schools and other educational programs were the top priorities for many of these donors. More than 60 percent of the African-Americans and Latinos under age 40 gave one of their two biggest gifts to education.
Because so many more educational choices were open to them than to their parents, "there's a focus on disadvantaged young people and how those opportunities can be re-created for coming generations," says Ms. Hunt, whose foundation is a member of the coalition.
Of the 13 percent of minority donors who gave their primary gifts outside the country, many of them also directed the money to education or job training rather than responding to crises or sending remittances to family.
Younger donors are more likely than their over-40 counterparts to donate to groups that don't limit their services to a particular racial or ethnic group. And young professionals want to see nonprofit groups apply business principles to their work. "The ability to influence and to make a difference is phenomenal when you understand what's going on in the capital markets and ... on Wall Street," a young Latino financial-services professional said in the report.
That's not to say that money is replacing the tradition of donating time. Ninety percent of the donors also said they do volunteer work, and many give their money to the nonprofit groups with which they have a personal connection. But creating benchmarks that show the levels of giving in ethnic communities can shift the conversation about how to effect change, Hunt says.
For example, African-American giving was largely invisible seven or eight years ago, she says. But recent philanthropy studies have shown that some of the most generous places in the US are urban areas with large numbers of African-Americans. "Having that understanding helps people to come to the table in a different way," Hunt says. "They're not coming completely as supplicants, they're coming as communities with resources who are now ready to build the kinds of partnerships that address these long-standing needs."
As for Ms. Randolph, her family always had volunteered and given money to church and social organizations. But she saw her fund for unsung heroes as an opportunity to contribute more directly to her goals. "I set about to encourage, cajole, wheedle, and otherwise exhort my colleagues and friends ... that by giving small amounts of money on a consistent basis over time, the whole could be greater than the sum of its parts," she says.