University effort tracks giving to LGBTQ nonprofits

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 26, 2024
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Jacqueline Ackerman, left, is interim director of the Women's Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University, Denise Spivak is CEO of CenterLink, an organization for LGBTQ community centers, and Katie Hultquist is the director of leadership giving at Outright International. Photos: Courtesy Indiana University, Outright International, and CenterLink
Jacqueline Ackerman, left, is interim director of the Women's Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University, Denise Spivak is CEO of CenterLink, an organization for LGBTQ community centers, and Katie Hultquist is the director of leadership giving at Outright International. Photos: Courtesy Indiana University, Outright International, and CenterLink

A number of years ago the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy's Equitable Giving Lab launched an index to track how much money was being donated to nonprofits focused on women and girls. Based on the success of that database, the lab created a similar index looking at the state of LGBTQ charitable giving.

It also built a searchable database with information on hundreds of LGBTQ nonprofits from across the country. The lab, using funding from, debuted its and inaugural LGBTQ giving report last year in May.

"The Equitable Giving Lab broadly aims to address the lack of centralized data on charitable giving to diverse communities," said Jacqueline Ackerman, who is bisexual, one of the primary authors of the Lab's LGBTQ+ Index, and interim director of the Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Lilly school. "Our goal is to measure charitable giving. You can't change what you don't measure and don't have a baseline for."

Its findings have been at once stark and encouraging. Rather than decreasing, the percentage of donors to LGBTQ causes or organizations has been increasing based on studies of high-net-worth philanthropy the Lilly school conducted in partnership with U.S. Trust.

As the B.A.R. reported in April, such donors stood at 6.5% in 2020, up from the 4.8% of respondents who had done so in 2016. The lab's newest report released in the spring found that charitable giving to LGBTQ+ organizations totaled $823 million in 2021.

While such donations more than doubled from 2012-2021, still less than $1 out of every $500 donated went to support LGBTQ organizations, as the B.A.R. had noted. (The reports are based on nonprofit tax filings to the IRS, which lag behind the current calendar year.)

"One of our findings is it really seems LGBTQ-plus nonprofit organizations seem fairly agile and responsive to the needs of the community and how those change overtime," said Ackerman, 38, who joined the Lilly school in 2012 after earning a master's of public affairs from the Indiana University O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs in Bloomington and now works remotely from Bethesda, Maryland where she resides.

Katie Hultquist, who is lesbian and queer and is the director of leadership giving at Outright International, which focuses on LGBTQ global concerns, likes how the lab includes giving by individuals and not merely major donors, such as foundations and other institutional funders, in its report.

"Looking at how individuals are supporting our communities is critical. It is one of the things I find valuable about it," said Hultquist, 50, who grew up in San Francisco and now lives with her wife in Seattle.

One of her colleagues serves on the advisory committee for the LGBTQ+ Index. Its findings have been both heartening and eye-opening, said Hultquist, who told the B.A.R. it "is fantastic" to see a doubling in LGBTQ charitable giving during the 10-year span covered in the report.

"It reflects what we see in our own experience," said Hultquist, in terms of increased investment and interest from new donors. "But, unfortunately, LGBTQ organizations are still incredibly under-resourced."

Shifts in giving

Giving to certain LGBTQ sectors, such as education-focused groups, grew more (a 254% increase in that time frame) than others, such as HIV/AIDS-related groups (which saw only a 7% increase). Some donors who were giving in support of marriage equality stopped doing so after it became a federal right in 2015 and didn't redirect their donations toward other LGBTQ issues or causes.

Disparities in LGBTQ giving aren't just found in the U.S. According to data collected by the Global Philanthropy Project, less than half of LGBTQ giving globally goes to agencies based outside of the U.S. and Canada, noted Hultquist. She also pointed out that more resources are needed to meet the needs of the transgender community.

"We do see some parts of the community geographically and population-wise is vastly under-resourced," said Hultquist.

Nonetheless, she pointed out that the LGBTQ giving data reflects the growth in the number of LGBTQ nonprofits that have formed over the years and the breadth of the issues they are focused on.

"We also see that globally," said Hultquist.

Denise Spivak, a lesbian who has served as CEO of CenterLink: The Community of LGBTQ Centers since 2020, told the B.A.R. funding for the more than 340 centers in its network has risen since she first was hired by CenterLink 13 years ago. Back then only a handful of LGBTQ centers in the U.S. had budgets over $1 million, with even fewer operating with more than $5 million.

Today, that number "has increased exponentially," said Spivak. "That said, $1 million doesn't go as far as it used to."

And, Spivak noted, most centers in the Midwest and the South operate with less financial resources than their counterparts in other parts of the country do.

"The increased number is phenomenal, and I think very encouraging," she said of total LGBTQ giving in 2021. "I also think we have to be realistic about what that really means to small organizations providing amazing services in very difficult areas, areas being hard hit with anti-LGBT legislation proposed or enacted."

CenterLink annually awards $1.4 million to its center members, with the amount given ranging from as little as $500 up to $55,000. The bulk of the money is unrestricted, so the centers can spend it as they see fit. It barely scratches the fiscal needs of the agencies, said Spivak, who wishes she could give each of them $250,000 in yearly awards.

"Even if we could give each $50,000 a year would be life changing. Some of our centers operate on as little as $2,500," she said. "When you are talking about a center that is newer, is rural, and most, if not all, are volunteer run, you might be giving them 25% of their budget. With that contract it means they will be able to get their first employees, some part time, and move the needle operationally to grow that center."

Spivak and CenterLink's chief development officer participate on the advisory committee for the Equitable Giving Lab. Its report is one way to shine a light on the needs of LGBTQ nonprofits outside of the more liberal coastal regions of the country, said Spivak.

"They are not the sort of sexy spots, if you will, that a lot of funders look to for donations," she said. "Kudos to those organizations, donors and foundations that do look that way. The impact is so amazingly great."

Focus on anti-LGBT groups

Focus also needs to be placed on the investments going towards groups working against LGBTQ rights both nationally and internationally, said Hultquist. Based on that metric, LGBTQ groups "are being outspent," she said, with the "anti-gender movement receiving far greater support from donors in the U.S. than LGBTQ causes are."

It has contributed to the 600-plus anti-LGBTQ bills introduced this year in statehouses across the country, said Hultquist. Globally, she added, such financial support is contributing to anti-LGBTQ laws like Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act.

"We can't meet those challenges and those threats without more investment. That is just the bottom line," said Hultquist.

Spivak hopes the Lilly school's expending resources to, and highlighting research on, LGBTQ nonprofit giving will bring more attention to the needs of such organizations within mainstream philanthropy circles.

"They have a reputation and respect, so I think it gives a mainstream focus that may not have been there in the past," said Spivak, 57, who resides in Vero Beach, Florida.

Many funders aren't looking to spend a lot of time finding and conducting research on hundreds of nonprofits, noted Spivak. Thus, the giving lab is providing "a one-stop shop" that makes it easy for philanthropists to find LGBTQ nonprofits they may want to support, she said.

"To give them an easy place to find a way to meet their needs that can be quick, efficient and trusted, I think, makes it so much — I don't want to say easier — I just think effective and impactful for somebody who has the money and they want to give and to do it in a way that is sort of vetted, if you will, by somebody you can trust," said Spivak.

Hultquist agreed that having a database as the LGBTQ+ Index is an invaluable resource for both institutional funders and individual donors.

"I can't tell you how important it is to have a recognized leader in the sector putting in that kind of energy and resources to really tracking what is happening in our communities and that allows funders an easy way to connect to those groups," she said. "I don't know anything else like it."

Additional indexes

The Equitable Giving Lab also plans to launch indexes focused on philanthropic support for the BIPOC and military veterans sectors, said Ackerman, who expects to be overseeing it in an interim capacity through at least the end of the year. As for its LGBTQ+ Index, it is up to 4,238 organizations in its database with the information for each culled from their 990s filed with the IRS.

"Folks are always welcome to reach out," said Ackerman of leaders from LGBTQ nonprofits not yet included. "If they just were created in 2023, or just received nonprofit status and haven't filed a 990 yet, they are not going to show up in our data for a little bit."

Since going live in 2023 reaction has been overwhelmingly positive to the index, said Ackerman. They are now focused on raising public awareness about it, she said.

"Overall, the general impression is this is needed and an important resource," said Ackerman. "I think our goal is just to make sure more people know about it. If the database just sits on a website and isn't used by researchers, donors, and nonprofit professionals then we are not really doing our job."

The hope is it will result in an increase in LGBTQ charitable giving. One study the lab did showed that 8% of high-net-worth donors said they were giving to women and girls because they had heard that less than 2% of charitable giving goes to women and girls.

"I am really excited to see what will result," said Ackerman, in having similar stats about LGBTQ giving published each year. "If we can impact giving to other areas of equity, I think that is really our goal here."

As for when donations to LGBTQ causes will be more than $1 out of every $500 donated, Spivak couldn't say.

"I wish I had that crystal ball," she told the B.A.R., adding of the LGBTQ+ Index findings, "I do hope funders really take what's in the report to heart."

Moving the needle

For donors wanting to move the needle for a certain cause with their giving, the LGBTQ sector is one area where the reverberations from their investment can be life changing, contended Hultquist.

"If you are looking for a place to make an impact with your charitable giving, this is an incredible place to see an outsize impact, quite frankly," she said. "If you look globally, there are so many places that present an opportunity to really make changes, significant change impacting millions of people."

Not just more allied donors are needed, said Hultquist, but more LGBTQ individuals need to be supporting those nonprofits working within the LGBTQ community.

"The Equitable Giving Lab's data can encourage this," she said, adding that, "if you care about helping people in crisis, well guess what, LGBTQ people are impacted by every crisis that is happening around the world and are disproportionately impacted. And we have the data to show that."

For more information about the Equitable Giving Lab's LGBTQ+ Index, visit

UPDATED 6/27/24 to clarify that Katie Hultquist was referring to the funding going to the anti-gender movement.

UPDATED 6/28/24to correct Jacqueline Ackerman's role with the Equitable Giving Lab, as she is one of the primary authors of its LGBTQ+ Index.

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