When the Supreme Court granted same-sex couples the right to marry last year, LGBT activists were understandably worried that major funders would declare victory and move on. And many did, notably the Ford Foundation, which pivoted away from funding U.S.-based LGBT groups late last year.
On the other hand, as Inside Philanthropy has been reporting, growing acceptance of LGBT equality has made this issue less discomforting for traditional or conservative funders, especially at the local level, with more community foundations stepping forward to support disadvantaged LGBT youth, seniors, and others.
But what about corporate funding? Well, there's little doubt that much of corporate America is squarely behind the movement. A 2014 analysis of LGBT funding listed four corporate funders among the top 20 grantmakers giving in this area. Attend a major city’s pride parade, and you will likely encounter company reps from the big banks, car companies, and telecommunications firms. I'm talking about companies like Verizon, whose recent LGBT funding may offer insight into the direction of corporate support post-2015.
Since 2006, Verizon has steadily increased its support for the Point Foundation, a fund offering scholarships, mentoring and leadership training to a contingent of LGBT students every year. Point holds its Leadership Education and Affinities Development (LEAD) consortiums throughout the year, gathering students for workshops and skills-building activities. The most recent LEAD, sponsored by Verizon, dealt with LGBT healthcare, HIV prevention, and health policy.
The Point Foundation is a recipient of broad-based corporate support. Past private-sector funders include Wells Fargo, Walmart, Time Warner, Citigroup, Staples, and Motorola. The scope of Verizon’s support for Point is actually smaller than the names above (five digits instead of their low six-digit figures), but it has been growing.
Verizon's support for Point and other LGBT organizations is just one facet of a very broad and diffuse pattern of giving. Its grantmaking tends to favor healthcare and disease prevention, but schools and education initiatives like Point’s LEAD consortiums also get steady support. Because of its wide range of giving, Verizon’s grants tend to run less than $10,000.
Interestingly, Verizon took the opportunity to sponsor Point’s work on a program specifically geared toward future LGBT community leaders. This kind of talent building for the LGBT community meshes well with the rising prominence of community foundations and local action in this space.
Even more intriguing, is the future role that corporations like Verizon will play in the next big fight that LGBT groups are waging against all forms of discrimination. We've reported on the Gill Foundation's contributions to the strategy for that fight, and how business is seen as a key ally. Recently, we've seen how powerful that corporate voice can be. Various companies pushed back hard against anti-gay legislation in Georgia and are now inflicting pain on North Carolina's economy in the wake of a law recently enacted there. (Yesterday, Deutsche Bank said it would halt expansion in that state because of the law.)
What's daunting about the anti-discrimination efforts of LGBT groups and funders is that they need to score victories in so many different places, since numerous states permit various forms of discrimination and a wave of new anti-LGBT legislation emerged lately. That broad battlefront makes corporate allies even more important, since so many big companies operate nationally, with a presence in many states.