How Allison Thomas Approaches Restorative Giving
About six years ago, Allison Thomas became interested in researching her family history.
Though she’s always lived in California, Allison knew her family roots extended back to Colonial Virginia. She is a descendant of Robert Carter, a merchant and planter who died in 1732 as one of the wealthiest men in the Colony of Virginia. His assets included 300,000 acres of land, 10,000 British pounds, and over 1,000 enslaved Africans. Over the years, the family story became that Robert Carter had distributed his wealth among his 16 children and that his wealth disappeared in one generation, and the people he enslaved had mysteriously dispersed out of the family — but Allison found that this was not the case.
“I discovered my third-great grandmother’s diary of her life during the Civil War, and she details how the people she enslaved were running to freedom and being ‘seized’ by Union gun boats,” Allison recalled. “I thought, ‘How come nobody told me that we enslaved people up to the Civil War?’ I guess each generation grows up that much more removed from it, but in the process of doing all this family research, I’ve uncovered these heinous things. For me, the question becomes: How do you atone for this? How can you make amends?”
"For me, the question becomes: How do you atone for this? How can you make amends?”
Allison decided she would take all the money she had inherited from that side of the family and invest it back into Virginia, with emphasis on supporting efforts by and for Black communities. “Even though our family’s original wealth did not survive the Civil War, my ancestors still came out of the war and used their positions in society to get government jobs and land of their own and rebuild,” she said. “That’s why I’ve always wanted to focus my restorative giving in Virginia.”
The challenge, then, was that Allison didn’t know much about which organizations are doing good work in the Commonwealth today. She’d heard that setting up a donor advised fund at a Community Foundation was a great way to get to know the local giving ecosystem, which led her to the Community Foundation for a greater Richmond. “The Community Foundation has been an excellent place to learn about what’s going on and what I can support,” she said.
“The Community Foundation has been an excellent place to learn about what’s going on and what I can support."
Allison has been especially passionate about supporting work that addresses housing shortages and creating loans for Black-owned businesses. Her grantmaking has included support for the Amandla Fund for Economic and Racial Justice and the Fund for Entrepreneurial Growth, as well as The Jackson Ward Collective – an organization that connects local Black business owners to each other and to resources that can help their businesses thrive. To maximize the amount of money she can get into the community as quickly as possible, Allison’s approach to restorative giving involves spending her donor advised fund down to zero and then replenishing it each year.
“In the long-term, I’m a big fan of multi-year general operating grants to organizations who are Black-led and community based,” she shared, “because they know what their communities need, and I think we should trust them to figure out what they should do with the funding.”
If you are interested in developing your giving strategy with the Community Foundation, please contact Molly Dean Bittner, Chief Philanthropy Officer, at (804) 409-5605 or firstname.lastname@example.org.