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

Money Salary Earning Wages (Getty) | Advocate.com

Along with not rehiring
for one staff member who left last year, Robinson added that
the coalition, which just marked its five-year anniversary, has
outgrown some of its original operating systems, database
software, and hardware, among other things. "We had hoped to
make an investment there, and that's something we will
potentially delay," he said.

One of the key reasons
nonprofits are taking a financial hit is that the foundations
that fund them have seen their endowments decline considerably
in the market crash.

"We've lost a little
more than $200 million so far, which means that we are going to
have to be scaling back our grant making - that's just a
reality," said Matt Foreman, who directs the Gay &
Lesbian and Immigrant Rights programs for the Haas Jr. Fund and
is a former executive director himself.

For 2009, Foreman
projected the Haas foundation would
make about $6.5 million in grants to LGBT causes, a
slight increase over 2008 if you factor out a special onetime
marriage equality initiative it funded in California last year.
But the worst is yet to come.

The foundation had not
scaled back its giving for 2009 because they had already
committed to a certain level of grants. "Our values here are
that we just don't cut anyone off, we have to give people
notice," Foreman said. As a result, Haas will be giving away
about 11% of its endowment this year, although Foreman said the
standard level of gift-making for most foundations is closer to
5%.

"When you're spending
10%, even in a good economic year, that's eating into your
endowment. In a year where the gains are negative, you're
eating into it even more," he said. "At that rate of
expenditure, you won't be around for more than seven years or
so."

In preparation for a
continued reduction of returns in 2009, Foreman said fund
officials are asking grantees not to expect the same
level of support in 2010 and are also making one-year grants
rather than two- to three-year grants.

No one sees any silver
bullets that could alleviate the current economic
crisis. The truth is, finding ways to share costs can be more
difficult than what initially meets the eye.

Foreman, who was not
present at the meeting, recalled a time in the '90s when he and
some other movement leaders in New York attempted to get health
care on a pooled basis because at the time no insurance company
in the state offered domestic-partner benefits to organizations
with under 50 employees. "That was all of us," he said,
"but we just couldn't find a way to do it."

The gathering did,
however, open communication among LGBT groups about working
smarter and reducing unnecessary duplication of efforts.

"People are thinking
more deeply about administrative and programmatic
collaborations," Wolfe said.

Chrisler gave the
example of safe schools legislation; which her organization has
a stake in this, but such legislation is typically advanced at
the state level by state equality organizations.

"The piece we care
about, as a family organization, is to make sure the language
in the bill has an affiliation clause that protects our kids by
saying they're affiliated with gay parents," she said. So if
the Family Equality Council effectively communicates
that concern to state organizations and the language is added,
she said, "then our agenda is accomplished, we didn't have to
go out and pass safe schools legislation ourselves, and oh, by
the way, everybody won."

Mergers, though
presented as a topic for consideration, were barely discussed
according those in attendance. But Chrisler, whose organization
recently merged with a smaller regional nonprofit from
Minneapolis, said nothing should be taken off the table.

"I think all boards
of any nonprofits in the LGBT movement or elsewhere should
always be open to the range of options that would best fulfill
their mission," she said.

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