Black-run nonprofits need support of big foundations to help them serve people
By Guest Columnist IVORY CLOUD, founder of Dreams of Lois, Inc.,
My name is Ivory Cloud and I am a wife, mother, educator and entrepreneur. I have been in education for nearly 20 years. I am a proud founder of the registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit Dreams of Lois, Inc. I started Dreams of Lois more than 10 years ago in honor of my mother, Lois, who died at a young age from cancer.
We are a community outreach and mentoring organization based out of suburban South Atlanta, in Fayetteville, and we aim to put motherly love back into our community. The areas we serve are predominantly communities of color, people who are often unreached by other social service organizations. Although we are a Black-run organization, we don’t only serve Black people in our community. We aim to help everyone, regardless of race. The goal of Dreams of Lois is to identify specific, unmet needs in our community and work to fill them. We believe that small acts can have a big impact on someone’s life, and we seek to find opportunities where even a small nonprofit like Dreams of Lois can do a great amount of good.
Each month, Dreams of Lois hosts a community outreach service project where we serve hundreds of people through donations – such as food for low-income children in summertime without access to free lunch; pajamas for patients at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta; personal hygiene products for homeless families; backpacks at the beginning of the school year for low income students, and other necessities that folks in our community need to live comfortably, but just can’t afford to buy themselves.
Low income children in my community are underserved by other nonprofits or government infrastructure and therefore in great need – imagine having to start the new school year with an old, broken backpack because you can’t afford a new one, or being hungry every summer when school lets out because you don’t have access to food. These donations and events are essential to the growth and development of communities that are suffering from the inequities of life.
Simply put, we help people live a comfortable life with dignity, so they can overcome the hurdles in front of them. For example, hygiene products help homeless people get cleaned up so they can go into a job interview fresh and confident. This work is very small and hyper-local – literally, we serve people down the road and in our community who are in need. The work is done by my family and me in our spare time, and all of our operating costs go back into serving those in need. My husband, Antre’ Cloud, and I have two teenage daughters, Charity and Chastity, and they are in charge of identifying areas to serve. Our base of operations is our garage. Dreams of Lois is truly a grassroots organization and thrives on making personal connections in the community.
Black-run nonprofits, which are sometimes the only organizations reaching Black communities in need, face many hurdles to growth in the nonprofit sector. Being a young minority female nonprofit founder, I have not been able to tap into the large donation and funding infrastructure of Atlanta. Often, the people who are good at fundraising come from privileged backgrounds and are literally born into a network of wealthy and influential people who fund nonprofits. It’s not like that in my community. I could never afford to hire a fancy development consultant to help me build these funding streams. Like many Black leaders, it’s me, my community, our passion to lift up other people of color, and all with very limited resources to do it.
Black nonprofits need mentorship and help networking with influential people, both of which are extremely fundamental to the development of any nonprofit organization. I would like to see more programs aimed at Black leaders that help them step into the halls of power. These barriers we need to break down are as much about race as they are about class. It’s vital that people in power know that because communities of color have lacked access to capital, they don’t have the tools or resources to easily tap into funding structures.
One day I would like to be able to commit myself full time to Dreams of Lois, rather than doing it in my spare time (I teach school to pay the bills, and squeeze whatever time and resources I can to my nonprofit). These is a very important hurdle I need to overcome in order to become eligible for grants. By not having a full time employee, Dreams of Lois is ineligible for many grants. I understand that the requirement to have a full time administrator is to ensure that a nonprofit is developed and professional enough to handle a grant; however, for small black-run nonprofits it’s seemingly impossible to get a grant to afford to have a full timer. In a way it’s a catch 22—you can’t get a grant if you don’t have a full time employee, but you can’t have a full time employee unless you get a grant to pay them.
I would love to see, for example, The Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta commit continue to do more targeted grant-giving to Black nonprofits, which they made a priority last year. Specifically, I think more capacity-building grants (like the CFGA’s Toolbox grant) would be a great way to lift up these organizations. Helping Black-run nonprofits to reach the point where they are able to have a fulltime employee is one area where we need the big foundations to be supportive, so that we can see growth in Black-run nonprofits.
Dreams of Lois desires to support thousands of people a month and to take our organization to a global level. Dreams of Lois has made great strides over the years. We have faithfully broken many barriers and prevailed to impact the lives of thousands of people. We are immensely proud of all of our accomplishments, the support of local businesses, our family, and the community. I feel so blessed to live the life of the nonprofit founder of Dreams of Lois, my mother’s legacy of serving people will live on forever.
Note to readers: Ivory Cloud is the founder of Dreams of Lois, Inc., a registered 501(c)(3) charitable and mentoring organization.