Editorial: Why Give OUT Day matters

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday May 15, 2024
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Give OUT Day is important for LGBTQ nonprofits, and it's not too late to help. Image: Courtesy Horizons Foundation
Give OUT Day is important for LGBTQ nonprofits, and it's not too late to help. Image: Courtesy Horizons Foundation

By now, many readers have probably received a few — or a lot — of emails and messages on social media from LGBTQ nonprofits seeking donations through Give OUT Day. What used to be a national day of giving has evolved into a month — it ends Thursday, May 30. That's a good thing because queer organizations desperately need the money, and as we've reported, philanthropic giving to LGBTQ organizations is paltry compared with dollars donated to more mainstream (i.e., straight) nonprofits.

We reported a couple of weeks ago on the dire state of giving to LGBTQ organizations. While foundation giving to LGBTQ organizations has increased since 2015, the starting point was so low that the figures can paint a misleading picture, according to community leaders. For example, in 2021, foundation giving to LGBTQ causes reached $251 million, according to the most recent LGBTQ grantmaking by U.S. foundations tracking report released by Funders for LGBTQ Issues. But — and this is the point — that $251 million represents just 0.13% of total charitable support distributed that year. In other words, queer nonprofits don't even account for 1% of giving by foundations. Or, as Katie Carter, who is queer and CEO of the Pride Foundation, which makes grants to LGBTQ nonprofits in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, told us, as that 2021 tracking report indicated, for every $100 awarded by U.S. foundations that year, only 28 cents specifically supported LGBTQ communities and issues.

"It's an unbelievably small number. It speaks volumes to how relatively underfunded we are," Roger Doughty, a gay man who's president of Horizons Foundations, told us late last month. Horizons is the organization that produces Give OUT Day, and Doughty and his team have made it easy for organizations across the country and in Puerto Rico to participate. Horizons has worked for decades to help level the playing field through its community grants to queer organizations in the nine-county Bay Area region. It took over Give OUT Day back in 2016 and has since expanded it to a month.

Here's something else that's apparent in the tracking report: the funding landscape remains unstable and uneven. "Black LGBTQ, Southeastern, and transgender, gender-nonconforming, and nonbinary communities and groups did not reap the benefits of this increase in funding. The rising tide does not lift all boats," the report states, referring to $281.6 million identified from 6,585 grants to domestic LGBTQ communities and issues from 283 foundations in 2021. (That $281.6 million figure includes $30.8 million in re-granting.) In fact, the report noted that funding for Black LGBTQ communities actually decreased from 2020 to 2021, both in terms of dollars and as a share of overall LGBTQ funding, the report notes. That's especially concerning since 2020 was the year George Floyd was murdered by a white Minneapolis police officer, setting off a monthslong reckoning among funders and many other organizations. It's depressing to see that essentially, the funding needs of Black LGBTQ people were deemed almost as an afterthought by foundations the following year.

We don't know what specific LGBTQ funding has been granted nationally over the last three years, as the reports are based on nonprofit tax filings whose release is delayed as long as two years. Nonetheless, we strongly suspect the figures haven't increased that much. Given the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ legislation across the country, we'd say that far from decreasing giving, foundations should be increasing their grants to LGBTQ organizations and communities.

Another interesting statistic from the tracking report shows that about 20 top foundation donors, led by Gilead Sciences Inc. of Foster City, account for 73% of the giving to LGBTQ organizations. That needs to increase substantially, as Horizons' Doughty noted. "It would be better to have a balance and more in the middle," he said. "If you take out one of the top funders there is a gap."

We've already seen how companies have become skittish about donating to and sponsoring queer events. Spooked by last year's boycotts involving Bud Light and Target, the latter has already indicated it will do away with most of its Pride merchandise this year. That may send an unwanted message to foundations, sort of like, well, if companies don't need to support the LGBTQ community, why do we?

That, however, is exactly the wrong message the funders should be taking from the marketplace. Rather, they should see that LGBTQ-themed books are being banned by conservative school boards and that trans youth are being targeted for everything from accessing appropriate care to which bathrooms they can use. (The bathroom issue, by the way, also applies to adults in states like Utah and Florida.) They should know that mental health among queer youth is fragile, and that many LGBTQ adults struggle to get by, often turning to nonprofits for assistance.

It is in this environment that Give OUT Day continues to play a vital role. The campaign raised $1.2 million last year, and while that's not a lot compared to what some foundations give, the money is sorely needed by nonprofits. In fact, we spoke to several participants just before the start of this year's effort, and all had important things to say about what the fundraiser means to them. In San Francisco alone, we report this week that city funding for programs serving queer youth may be drastically cut for some agencies like LYRIC, the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, and Larkin Street Youth Services. We've also reported on concerns by those living with HIV/AIDS about continued city funding for services in this dismal budget year.

So if people can, they should consider giving to an LGBTQ nonprofit that they support. In this time of municipal budget challenges in cities like San Francisco, Oakland, and elsewhere, the agencies will be grateful. For more information, go to giveoutday.org.

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