Are Community Foundations Stepping Up Support for LGBT Issues? It Looks That Way

In the wake of the marriage equality victory, many LGBT advocates have worried that funding for their work might fall as some social justice funders move on to other issues. But there's another possibility regarding future funding trends: That growing acceptance of LGBT Americans will make funding in this area feel less risky to local foundations, particularly in more conservative parts of the country, unlocking new sources of support.  

We see some signs of that. A lot of LBGT funding has been coming from community foundations around the country lately, and this type of funding almost always stays close to home. For example, the LGBT fund at the Community Foundation of Utah recently awarded $53,500 in grants to 12 local organizations, and the Community Foundation for Northeast Florida made headlines with its $108,000 commitment to LGBT organizations in the Jacksonville area. Another community foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, also just kicked in $282,500 for its inaugural group of grant recipients.

Although these grants have been made in three very different regions of the country, there are a couple of common threads anong community foundation LGBT grants: seniors and youth.

The "Most Critical Needs"

The Chicago Community Trust awarded grants between $10,000 and $25,000 to organizations through its LGBT Community Fund, which is a donor-advised fund that’s solely responsible for its own fundraising. The steering committee raised over $900,000 over the past three years and uses a unique venture capital fundraising model.

"This is a significant milestone for the LGBT community. The LGBT Fund was created to directly fund organizations addressing the most critical needs identified by the community," Ryan VanMeter, co-chair of the LGBT Fund, said upon announcing the recent round of grants. "We heard from the community that LGBT youth and seniors are two segments currently underserved, and these grants represent an important first response to what we heard."

LGBT Grants for Seniors

A couple of the Chicago grantees that address the needs of the elderly include RAD Remedy and Adler University's LGBT Mental Health and Inclusion Center. Northeast Florida grantees with an elderly focus include ElderSource, which serves area seniors and provides sensitivity training for home health and skilled nursing professionals who work with the elderly. One recent Utah grantee, the Senior Charity Care Foundation, will use its grant money to provide financial assistance for medical and dental care for LGBT seniors.

LGBT Grants for Youth

A few youth-focused LGBT grantees in Chicago include Thousand Waves Martial Arts and Self-Defense Center, the Broadway United Methodist Church Youth Lounge Program, and the Youth Empowerment Performance Project. The Jacksonville, Florida-Area Sexual Minority Youth Network recently received a grant, and so did the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah for a LBGT mentor program.

Testing the Waters

But at community foundations around the country, LBGT funding is still relatively new. The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida’s LGBT fund was just established in 2014, and awarded about $100,000 in its first year of grantmaking. Civic leaders met in Chicago in 2010 to address local LGBT needs at the Chicago Community Trust, but the fund just announced its inaugural group of grants on October 1, 2015. The Community Foundation of Utah’s LGBT Fund was established in 2011, and has made over $250,000 in grants since then.

All of this means that community foundation LGBT funding is in its early stages, and these funders still have a lot to learn about this particular philanthropy scene. Right now, seniors and youth are the big focus areas across the board, but that could change.

There’s a definite need for more LGBT funding in the areas of homelessness and housing, as nonprofits serving these needs are turning to individual donation fundraisers in lieu of grants. Homeless Gay Kids Houston is a good example of a nonprofit with this regional need in Texas. Other areas of interest include engagement in the arts and financial planning. However, LBGT community foundation funding is only expected to expand in the years ahead, so consider these as go-to grantmakers, regardless of what part of the country you’re in.