LGBT Groups Face Uncertain Financial Times

About 35 LGBT leaders met in Washington, D.C., to discuss how they can conserve resources and still advance the movement during an economic downturn.

BY Kerry Eleveld

February 20 2009 12:00 AM ET

Amid the economic
downturn and strained budgets nationwide, LGBT movement leaders
representing about 35 organizations assembled in Washington two
weeks ago to discuss a number of options that might ultimately
save them money.

"The goals in my view
were very simple," said Jennifer Chrisler, executive director
of the Family Equality Council. "It was to open a dialogue
for folks to think creatively about the ways in which we could
work more efficiently and collaboratively for maximum benefit
to the movement."

The groups ranged from
some of the movement's largest, such and the Human Rights
Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, to
midsize organizations, like the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund
and the Family Equality Council, to smaller shops, such as the
National Black Justice Coalition and the National Center for
Transgender Equality.

According to
participants, a wide variety of alternatives were presented by
a facilitator, ranging from sharing the costs of administrative
items such as computer services, health insurance, and office
rent to teaming up on programming or even joining forces in
cases where two organizations might have similar missions.

The discussion also
included an overview of how different organizations are faring
financially at the moment.

"All of us across the
nonprofit sector, not just LGBT organizations, obviously are
looking at the economy and we all want to be prudent and
fiscally responsible given the economic climate," said Rea
Carey, executive director of the Task Force. Throughout the
entire nonprofit sector, Carey said, organizations are looking
at cutting back on their budgets by anywhere from 10-20
percent.

Overall, participants
said nearly every group present at the meeting was planning for
flat funding at best in the coming year or even budget
reductions.

"Nobody was in
ultimate crisis, but there was definitely a range of experience
in terms of what the economy had done so far," said
Chuck Wolfe, executive director of the Victory Fund.

The Task Force, which
had a budget of about $10 million for fiscal year 2009, has
already begun scaling back. Carey said, for example, they chose
not to rehire for the director of public policy position after
Dave Noble vacated the post last year to join the Obama
team.

"Many of the people
who could fill that position well were working on campaigns,"
she said, "so we wanted to wait for a while and we had other
leadership who stepped in to fill that role."

The Task Force has just
started planning for its next fiscal year, which begins in
June, and Carey did not make projections but said, "It's safe
to say that we do not anticipate any growth, that would not be
fiscally responsible."

The Family Equality
Council already reduced its force in January by 3.5 full-time
employees to 13.5 (14 employees altogether). "We looked at
what we originally proposed for the budget in October of
2008," explained Chrisler, "and we have reduced from there
-- including a couple staff layoffs and strategic decisions
about certain expenses like travel." Chrisler said the
group's budget rose slightly from $1.3 million in 2008 to $1.5
million in 2009 but she expected 2010 to be a tougher
fund-raising environment.

The Victory Fund's
Wolfe had an added concern given that his organization focuses
on electing LGBT people to public office. "We don't know what
donors will do to candidates -- we are guessing that there will
be fewer contributions to them in 2009," he said, adding that
the Victory Fund would have to work harder to help make up the
difference.

Wolfe explained that
the organization's budget ebbs and flows in tandem with the
two-year election cycle -- higher in the even years and lower
during odd years. He anticipated that its budget for the
2009-2010 election cycle would stay about even with that of the
previous election cycle of 2007-2008 -- a little over $5
million combined for both the Victory Fund and the Gay and
Lesbian Leadership Institute. But he added that the
group may not have as much money to fund candidates.
"We have put measures in place to prepare for a 20% reduction
in candidate contributions," Wolfe said.

The National Black
Justice Coalition's budget of just under a million is holding
steady for now, but executive director Alexander Robinson is
particularly worried about the smaller constituency groups that
depend on money from the organization for
survival.

"One of the first
places for reductions during tough times is the money that goes
out the door to support other organizations," Robinson noted.
"The local and state groups that we support with small
sponsorship funds -- their capacity to make adjustments is
limited. So if I'm unable to give them $500, that could have a
significant impact on their budget."

Robinson said his
organization already scaled back a Black Church Summit later
this month in San Francisco from three days to one based on the
financial concerns of participants.

Tags: Politics

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