Black-Led Social Change

Investing in Black-Led Social Change

Partner: United Way of Greater Cincinnati

Project Timeframe: 2017-2020

Location: Cincinnati, OH


Historically, philanthropy has neglected and underinvested in Black social change leaders and Black-led organizations, especially small, community-based organizations and coalitions. Grantmaking often favors large nonprofits with robust administration and grantwriters, while grassroots organizations creating change on the ground get overlooked. In Cincinnati, Black families disproportionally experience poverty, while Black institutions and Black-led ideas receive less investment by major funders.


United Way of Greater Cincinnati recognized they could do more to support Black-led social change. In 2017, United Way of Greater Cincinnati hired Design Impact to facilitate a co-design process to identify strategies to support and invest in Black-led social change intiatives. 


A focus group participant reacts to different ideas to support Black grassroots leaders


Guided by the question, How might we increase United Way of Greater Cincinnati’s investment in Black-led, community-based ideas by 2019?, UWGC and Design Impact set out to define and explore the challenges faced by Black social change leaders. Our work alongside Black leaders, United Way staff, donors, and volunteers helped United Way prioritize several opportunities to fund Black-led social changemakers and produced several concepts that United Way could pilot. 


Download the Report: Black-Led Social Change (2018)


Following our work with the initial Black-Led Social Change initative, we helped United Way of Greater Cincinnati plan and launch two pilots to act on these findings: Champions of Change and Growing Grassroots. Both concepts sought to help Black social change leaders get access to funding.   


The inaugural cohort of the Champions of Change


In 2019, Design Impact helped United Way launch Champions of Change, a one-year leadership and design program that brings together community leaders driven to advance Black-led ideas to reduce poverty. Co-facilitated by Design Impact, the first class of Champions conceived and designed a grassroots grant program for Black entrepreneurs and changemakers. The Champions co-designed the overall grantmaking process with United Way, including the Request for Proposals and cohort model.


In 2020, the Champions of Change and United Way of Greater Cincinnati launched the first cohort of Black Empowerment Works, a grant program that promotes Black self-determination, social mobility and economic prosperity by providing resources and funding to grassroots/community-based, Black-led work. 


Since its inception in 2020, United Way has invested over $3 million into 100 ideas and their leaders.

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