Hear Me Out
|by Mubarak Dahir|
|Put Your Money Where Your Rights Are
A recent study by the New York-based organization, Funders for Lesbian and Gay Issues, unveiled an unfortunate problem with gay and lesbian groups across the country, whether they were local or national institutions: Our organizations are woefully underfunded.
The study, which was released in April of this year, looked at the charitable giving patterns of the country's top 1000 corporate and private foundations through the fiscal year of 2002.
According to the study, charitable giving to gay and lesbian causes and issues is woefully small.
It found that only one-tenth of one percent of all the money given to charitable causes went to organizations working for gay and lesbian causes.
Furthermore, the overall percentage of money going to gay and lesbian causes from such foundations remained flat for 13 years, from 1989 to 2002, the last year that was included in the study.
On the bright side, corporate and private philanthropies are giving about $30 million annually to support gay and lesbian-related concerns, and the authors of the study say it is a positive development that mainstream philanthropic organizations have opened up in the past decade or so to giving grants to gay-related organizations.
But the amount of money being donated to gay and lesbian-related issues remains miniscule.
The low percent of charitable giving to gay and lesbian groups becomes even more troublesome when viewed against the backdrop of just how much money anti-gay fundamentalist groups are successful in raising to promote their anti-gay agendas.
The organized religious right raises an estimated $400 million annually to push their agenda, of which defeating gay rights is a cornerstone.
In 2004 alone, conservative forces raised an estimated $125 million to fight same-sex marriage at the ballot box.
In contrast, the combined budget of all the national gay and lesbian organizations working on gay and lesbian rights issues was only about $40 million, excluding groups that do primarily AIDS work.
While fundraising isn't a glamorous or fun topic, the hard truth is that in our current political and social system, it takes money to get out your message.
It takes money to run political campaigns aimed at protecting gay rights, it takes money to buy media spots (especially on TV), it takes money to make up educational kits to get out to the public and it takes money to pay for lobbyists to try to sway the opinion of politicians, whether it's in Washington D.C. or a state capitol.
And as it turns out, we as a gay and lesbian movement are not awash in cash.
There are three major sources for funds to fuel gay rights groups: public or government funding, private or corporate foundations, and individual donations.
With the current political atmosphere and the strength of the mostly anti-gay Republican party, both at the national and local levels, it seems unlikely to hope for any significant increase in public or government money for groups that support gay and lesbian organizations.
Indeed, it seems more likely that whatever little money is coming from public coffers is going to be harder and harder to squeeze out, if not dry up all together.
Corporate giving may be a more hopeful avenue. Few major corporations want to be perceived as anti-gay anymore. Non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation are standard fare among most big companies, and are even pretty common among smaller ones.
The business world has come to see nondiscrimination as a bottom-line, dollars and cents issue: In an economy where businesses are hustling for all the best possible workers, it just doesn't make good economic sense to be discriminatory against gays.
However, the move to better business practices and job policies doesn't necessarily translate into more money from corporations or foundations for gay and lesbian-related groups or causes.
In the business world, giving away money to non-profits is still an exercise in public relations, and it is still much safer and more heartwarming to cultivate your public image by giving money to open a hospital wing to treat children with cancer than it is to help fund a gay and lesbian community center.
Gay groups and gay organizations should still ask for and push for more money from corporate and foundation sponsors. But realistically, it doesn't appear as if a huge increase in cash flow is going to be forthcoming overnight.
That leaves private, individual donations. Fundraisers for gay and lesbian groups say, on the whole, we as gays and lesbians lag in our private donations, particularly considering what an affluent segment of the population we are often portrayed to be.
No doubt there are some historical influences at work, including the huge financial, emotional and volunteer strain the AIDS crisis has taken on gay men and lesbians.
But another factor, experts say, is that the gay and lesbian movement is such a young one, it hasn't yet done a good job of getting gay and lesbian members used to the notion of regularly giving money to gay and lesbian causes. Instead, we tend to often operate simply under "crisis" modefor example, when an anti-gay initiative hits close to home, gay people will pound the pavements and open their wallets.
But even in a place like San Franciscowhich presumably has one of the most organized, motivated and politically astute gay and lesbian communities in the countrycharitable giving to gay and lesbian organizations is woeful.
For example, according to a study by the San Francisco-based Horizons Foundation, a community-based foundation aimed at supporting groups that work for gay and lesbian concerns, only one in 300 people give $1,000 or more per year to gay and lesbian causes.
The study also showed that gay and lesbian groups often do a poor job of organizing long-term fundraising campaigns.
As a result of the study, in late 2005 the group intends to launch a public awareness campaign called "Out Your Pocketbook," about the importance of gay philanthropy. It also plans to launch the Legacy Fund, a sustainable financial endowment.
Other gay and lesbian organizations, whether they are national or local, would do well to follow their lead.
In these political times, more than ever, gay and lesbian groups need to be mustering the forcesand the moneyto combat the next inevitable wave of anti-gay referendums and ballot measures.
Of course, gay and lesbian donors should pick the organizations they support carefully. Just because a group says it works for gay rights, or has a national office in Washington, D.C., doesn't mean it's worth writing a check to.
Before you give out your money, check on the group's accomplishments and history. Ask them for a copy of their annual report. Find out what projects they have recently undertaken, or what their most recent successes have been.
And don't be shy to ask how much of their money goes into specific programs that work for gay rights, vs. how much of their money goes into overhead.
Whatever your personal preferences, there is an untold number of gay organizations on the local, state and national level that are doing admirable work, and that both need and welcome your money.
Find out who they are, and be as generous as you can. Put your money where your rights are.
Mubarak Dahir, editor of The Express, the GLBT newspaper in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, may be reached at MubarakDahir@aol.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 8 July 1, 2005