Op-ed: Let Your Money Talk to Help LGBT Organizations

A new report shows that less than 3% of LGBT adults in the U.S. gave money to any national LGBT organization, but that hasn’t stopped those who don’t donate from criticizing.



I repeatedly hear and see criticism of LGBT organizations and their leaders. The chatter machine gripes about why the Defense of Marriage Act hasn’t been repealed yet, why transgender persons are not always included in proposed legislation, and even why there is a glut of gay charity summer pool parties.

LGBT people sure like to talk about the work of gay social justice groups; but far too often, they criticize without doing much to help.

While serving on the board of directors for Equality California for the last few years, and while helping support other groups financially or otherwise, I found myself immersed in dialogue about the LGBT rights movement. I’m all for constructive criticism. No entity or person is beyond reproach, and feedback from the community is always good. But much criticism comes from people who donate no money to any LGBT group (let alone contribute time to serve).

In 2010, less than 3% of LGBT adults in the U.S. gave money to any national LGBT organizations; the number of donors who gave $35 or more to LGBT non-profits dropped 12%. These disheartening statistics were reported by the Movement Advancement Project in its recently released 2011 National LGBT Movement Report. (Fortunately, the report found LGBT organizations remain fiscally healthy due to support from other sources.) If the LGBT community wants progress toward full equality, the other 97% of us need to financially support the organizations that fight our fights.

With the holiday season and tax year-end upon us, now is the perfect time to contribute and let your money talk for you.

Why don’t LGBT people give money? Let’s debunk the most common reasons I hear.

I can’t afford it.
That’s a legitimate concern in today’s tight economy. And most people cannot afford the larger amounts that LGBT organizations historically favor for their marquee fundraising events. But certainly far more than 3% of the LGBT adult population can afford to give $35, $50 or even $100 a year. Give up a few more cocktails; your waistline will appreciate it and so will your local or national LGBT group. With the rise of email and online solicitations, organizations welcome small donations.

I give with my time, not with my money.
Let’s fully applaud everyone who gives their time to serve LGBT rights in some fashion. Our movement needs passionate volunteers, and there’s a good argument that donating time is more meaningful than just writing a check. But if you can give time and cash, that’s even better. No matter how many volunteer hours an LGBT organization receives, it still needs money to do its work.

Someone else will give.
This notion rests on civic laziness, the belief that someone else will create for you the world that you want. It’s a sad state of affairs when we ask our straight allies to donate to our cause while less than 3% of LGBT adults do the same. It’s even a sadder state when you realize that antigay opponents routinely outspend (by multiples) our LGBT groups.

My contribution to certain organizations is not tax deductible.
Some of the most important work to advance LGBT equality is done by political advocacy groups that do not qualify as 501(c)(3) charitable organizations. For these entities, raising money can be more difficult but they need our monetary support to fight at the legal and political front line. Moreover, the political advocacy groups typically have a tax-exempt sister entity. (For example, the Human Rights Campaign has the HRC Foundation; Equality California has its Equality California Institute.) Still, gay dollars still do not flow enough to the tax-exempt organizations. And for the many LGBT groups that do in fact hold 501(c)(3) status (such as the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), there is little excuse for not donating to their charitable work.