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Gay Giving 2.0

Gay Giving 2.0


In November, Jumo launched as the latest online social network. It is the brainchild of Chris Hughes, cofounder of Facebook and social media czar for Barack Obama's winning presidential campaign. What differentiates Jumo from Facebook and other social networks is its focus on activism. It connects people to causes and nonprofit organizations, and to like-minded friends. Think of it as Philanthropy 2.0. Knowing that Chris Hughes is gay and a supporter of gay rights organizations, I began to think about how Jumo and other online vehicles can help LGBT organizations solve a perennial problem: how to get more LGBT people to donate money and support our causes.

Each year Americans donate $263 billion to charitable organizations. But according to Blackbaud Inc.'s index of online giving, only 5.7% of that amount is contributed online. And it's estimated that less than 1% comes through social media. Obviously, there is much room to grow when it comes to fund-raising on the Web. And Jumo can be a source of this growth. While it initially seeks to help you find friends who support your causes rather than to help raise charitable dollars, Jumo and other online networks can eventually increase the role social media plays as a fund-raising tool.

Social media can help address two issues with LGBT fund-raising:

Issue 1: Giving is limited to a relatively small number of gays.

In 2008 the Horizons Foundation released the landmark report "LGBT Giving to LGBT Organizations: Building a New Tradition of Philanthropy." Surveying LGBT people in the Bay Area, the study found that less than 5% gave money to a regional or national LGBT organization. If HIV-related organizations are thrown in, that number increases to 14%. But even 14% remains disappointing. While the study's geographical reach was limited, there is little reason to believe national percentages would be any higher (and frankly, outside the cities with major gay populations, the numbers may be even lower).

This is not altogether surprising. LGBT organizations have long relied on major donors for much of their operating budget. Writing a meaningful check or buying expensive seats at a gala fund-raiser has generally been the domain of the high-income "A-gay." With their limited staff and resources, LGBT organizations naturally must focus on major donors rather than reaching out more to the scores of other people who might only be able to afford smaller contributions. Before the advent of the Internet, it was usually not worthwhile to solicit smaller donors en masse because the cost of outreach did not warrant the return.

But the LGBT rights movement cannot survive on major donors alone. Responsibility to support our causes also falls to each of us in the LGBT community, even if you can only afford small amounts. For all the outraged gays and lesbians who marched in the streets of California after Proposition 8 passed, how many actually donated to the No on 8 campaign or to a marriage equality organization? For everyone who wants to stop antigay bullying in schools and gay teen suicide, how many of you have ever written a check to the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network or the Trevor Project? More of us have to step up and contribute something, anything, to the nonprofit groups that fight for LGBT equality.

Social media networks like Jumo can make it easier for everyone to donate, even at lower levels. Barack Obama proved this strategy can work. During his presidential primary and general election campaigns, his Internet team (led by Chris Hughes, no less) raised dollars in smaller amounts from many individual supporters to rack up money fast.

It's time to get all gays to participate in gay giving, and social media can facilitate that.

Issue 2: LGBT organizations are often limited to "A-gay" supporters.

For anyone who's ever been to a LGBT gala fund-raising dinner, you know what I mean. It can be the gay equivalent of high school prom: a ballroom full of "A-gay," well-heeled gays and lesbians (though usually more gay men than lesbians) who have the money, resources, or social connections to draw them in. To be clear, I'm not criticizing. The people in those ballrooms (and that often includes me) are undoubtedly supportive of LGBT causes; that's why they donate money and give up nights to attend charitable events.

But the demographic of supporters needs to expand. They need to come from a broader range of the income spectrum. They need to come increasingly from outside urban "gay ghetto" areas. They need to be more racially diverse, so that LGBT organizations do not become the land of just affluent white gay men.

Our supporters also need to include more straights. As I've written before, gay social media campaigns need to "go beyond the gay" to reach straight allies. Let's face it: The straights far outnumber the gays -- meaning there is a much bigger population of straight people to ask for money and other support.

Because of its inherent virality, social media can help us find more diverse supporters for LGBT causes. It starts with us. Ask your online friends to contribute money. If they can't afford to give cash, ask them to sign petitions, commit to volunteer work, or do whatever else they can. Use social media to ask online buddies (especially your friends in other geographic areas and your straight allies) to spread the word to their greater networks of people. That will in turn increase opportunities to greater diversify supporters.

LGBT nonprofit groups are fighting for our rights. They need our moral support and volunteer time, but they also truly need us to open our wallets. We can't sit back and just rely on other people to give.

The launch of Jumo reminds us how important it is to get everyone connected on with social causes. Whether you can give $1,000 or just $10 to the LGBT organization of your choice, in the spirit of Philanthropy 2.0, I'm calling on all gays: Go online and give.

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