The United Black Fund of Greater Cleveland (UBF) — founded in 1981 by George White, Ruby Terry, Helen Summons and Roosevelt Cox — is the leader in providing funding and mentoring to nonprofit organizations servicing the African American community.
“UBF was created because Black people needed an organization that served our interests,” says Terry, the only surviving founding member. “Once created, UBF began to receive donations from individuals who were actively involved in the community and worked together. In addition, white organizations did not want to seem racist, so they gave to us, too.”
As a result, UBF founders established relationships with nonprofits such as the Cleveland Foundation, Gund Foundation and United Way of Greater Cleveland. In addition to being donors, these legacy nonprofits have also been collaborators and strategic partners for more than 40 years.
Making an Impact
Cecil Lipscomb, executive director of UBF, was destined to lead a major nonprofit organization from an early age. His parents worked in the nonprofit sector, and he began taking up causes and raising money for others while he was a part-time student at Case Western Reserve University working toward a master’s degree in business administration.
“These small initiatives at major nonprofit institutions taught me that there was an opportunity to emphasize African American issues,” Lipscomb says.
As a result, he ensured that organizations that provide basic needs, workforce development, education and social justice issues continued to receive grants.
The Phe’be Foundation has been receiving grants from UBF for seven years for its financial literacy program, which it has been teaching in Cleveland area high schools and colleges for more than 20 years. When the pandemic hit, the Phe’be Foundation created a program called Wired2Work and then applied for a grant with UBF to pay for internet service for one year for Cleveland households.
“UBF understood when we told them internet service was not in the budget of Black households,” says Sharron Murphy-Williams, founder and executive director of Phe’be. “When we told them we would pay the monthly internet bill for these people, they approved our funding request, and after implementation of the program, we saw an increase in schoolwork being completed and adults being able to apply for jobs.”
Golden Ciphers Inc. received a grant from UBF for its rites of passage program for three years and currently receives funding for its entrepreneur and employment training program.
“These monies allowed us to pay for curricula, books, equipment and clothing for our Black Butterflies and Young Men Emerge programs,” says Pamela Hubbard, founder and executive director of Golden Ciphers. “I am most grateful to UBF because they accept, acknowledge and see me as an executive director even though I only have an associate degree in social work.”
Timothy L. Tramble Sr. and his wife, LaTrice, asked UBF to establish a scholarship fund in their late son’s name. In 2019, the family worked with UBF to establish and fund the Timothy L.
Tramble Jr. Memorial Scholarship Fund.
“The initial plan was to award three scholarships a year for use at designated schools in Cleveland,” says Adrianne Sims, executive assistant at UBF. “But after 46 applications were submitted in the fund’s second year to attend schools beyond Cleveland, the decision was made to give 12 scholarships and expand the list of schools students could [attend].”
Partnership and Collaboration
After Connie Hill-Johnson, entrepreneur and newly elected chairwoman of the board of directors at the Cleveland Foundation, had an epiphany to bring The Soul of Philanthropy (TSOP) — a three-month national traveling exhibition — to Cleveland, she contacted UBF. They began planning to have the national TSOP exhibit, as well as a Cleveland exhibit named Celebrate Those Who Give Black.
“Honorees were selected based on 100 to 150 nominations received from the community,” Hill-Johnson says. “We contacted Cecil because we knew a fiscal sponsor was needed, and we wanted someone who would quickly understand the vision of Black philanthropy in Cleveland.
“We hooked donors by telling them the local exhibit would remain in Cleveland after the national exhibit ended and would set up a fund at UBF which would be funded with 10% of each donation,” she adds.
Partnership and collaboration are cornerstones of what UBF was founded on and continues to use to fulfill its mission. Getting younger people engaged is another way to ensure an organization’s mission will extend for generations.
After earning her master’s degree in social work from Case Western Reserve University, Celeste Terry joined her mother at UBF. During her 25 years, the younger Terry has worked as an assistant to the executive director and is currently the grants manager. In 2016, she started a grant writing class taught at Mount Pleasant NOW Development Corp. until the pandemic began.
Since the pandemic, Celeste Terry has created the UBF Pogue Associate of Fundraising Professional (AFP) Cohort and the Center for Diverse and Thriving Organizations. The AFP Cohort is a yearlong training program that brings together diverse leaders of nonprofits for exposure, networking and learning. The organization is busier than ever, planning and coordinating philanthropic events in and beyond Cleveland.
For example, Lipscomb zipped down Interstate 77 to assist with creating the Black Economic and Wellness Coalition of Akron (BEWCA). He also collaborated with Jumpstart and the city of Cleveland to create an incubator for small businesses. The incubator collaboration was designed to have a safe launch space for young Black tech companies and tech companies for communities of color. The project received a $500,000 grant from the Small Business Administration (SBA) and is scheduled to host its first event throughout three days in October.
What are the plans for UBF going forward?
“To be a self-sustained organization,” Lipscomb says, “that is in relationship with partners who share the same objective for all to participate in a healthy community across Northeast Ohio.”