Natanja Craig-Oquendo has complicated feelings about Giving Tuesday, the yearly tradition in which nonprofits scramble for donations the week after Thanksgiving. Craig-Oquendo, executive director of Boston Women’s Fund, understands the good intentions behind the holiday.

But, she said Giving Tuesday feels like a “rat race” that perpetuates unnecessary competition among nonprofits, especially those that have small staffs and serve communities of color. To her and other nonprofit leaders in the region, this annual day of giving is an example of deeper structural problems in the sector.

“There's no equity in Giving Tuesday. There just isn't,” Craig-Oquendo said. “For a sector that wants to center equity — Giving Tuesday is exactly what we wouldn't want to do, because we know that the smaller guys are not getting the same attention as the larger ones.”

She said Black women leaders like herself face obstacles in the nonprofit field. A reportissued last year by the Building Movement Project found that when people of color working in the Massachusetts nonprofit sector become executive directors, they face structural barriers, and are more likely to be given smaller budgets, work with smaller staffs and raise less money.

That is something Hodan Hashi has noticed. She is one the founders of Black Boston Inc., launched by a group of young activists following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

“Being an organization owned and operated and completely run by Black women, and being an organization that challenges a lot of the systems that allow nonprofits that work the way they do — I think makes the process a little bit more difficult,” she said.

Those difficulties include fundraising, she says, and especially finding large donors. Black Boston has found more success by focusing on grassroots fundraising efforts and encouraging people to give in any way they can, whether that is time volunteering or money.

“I think [it] also kind of does raise the questions of why is it more difficult for young Black women to start organizations? Why is it more difficult for us to get funding?” she said. “And when you get into those conversations, I think it gets really deep into the root of like, why we started in the first place.”

Diana Hwang, executive director of the Asian American Women's Political Initiative, which supports low-income and immigrant Asian American and Pacific Islander women launch careers in politics, has become familiar with the structural inequities in the nonprofit sector.

Hwang pointed to astudy from Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, which found that just 0.2% of all grantmaking in the United States goes to funding for AAPI communities.

“We have to be very thoughtful about where we spend time and energy in order to even beat the barriers that already exist for organizations that serve communities of color,” she said.

That’s why, Hwang said, Giving Tuesday does not reflect how fundraising for nonprofits really works.

“The time, the energy spent away from programming — the juice just isn’t worth the squeeze,” she said. “We want to build authentic long-term relationships with our donors, small and large. And that doesn’t happen just one day every year.”

"We have to be very thoughtful about where we spend time and energy in order to even beat the barriers that already exist for organizations that serve communities of color."
-Diana Hwang, executive director, Asian American Women's Political Initiative

Some nonprofits, like The Lenny Zakim Fund, which provides grants and support to grassroot organizations focused on social justice, are experimenting with different approaches to giving. This year, they shifted their fundraising drive to a monthlong campaign that culminated on Nov. 17, called “LZF Giving Day.”

Executive Director Eric Esteves said that the organization will use Giving Tuesday to thank supporters and donors rather than make financial appeals. He hopes nonprofits like his can continue “testing new ideas out and be creative in our approach” so that they don’t have to compete with each other for support.

One creative approach to lessening that competition is the New Commonwealth Racial Equity and Social Justice Fund, which was launched in the summer of 2020 by a group of 19 Black and Latino business executives to support nonprofits that aim to dismantle systemic racism, which includes the Boston Women’s Fund.

President Makeeba McCreary says the fund has raised $30 million to date. She says she is aware of the structural barriers faced by smaller nonprofits. They aim to support organizations in Black and brown communities that are “closest to the solutions” and are “led by individuals who have really had to work very hard to be relevant to the traditional philanthropic organizations.”

"Think outside the box and think about people who don't look like you."
-Chastity Bowick, Executive Director, Transgender Emergency Fund

The holiday giving season has a long history. Winter is when some nonprofits become even more critical to the communities they serve. That’s the case for Massachusetts Transgender Emergency Fund, which supports low-income and homeless transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the state.

“It can get tough, especially during the winter months when more people are being abused in their homes, being kicked out, and they’re looking to us for resources,” said Executive Director Chastity Bowick.

Bowick said assistance from the Transgender Emergency Fund saved her own life, and she hopes that potential donors will think more creatively this holiday giving season. “Think outside the box and think about people who don’t look like you,” she said.

Craig-Oquendo hopes that having more people of color in leadership positions can start to change the narrative around nonprofit giving.

“Let’s not make it about the day. Let’s make it about multiyear giving,” she said. “Be really thoughtful — give to some BIPOC organizations. Make sure that you are paying attention to the little guys.”