More LGBTQ Capacity Building Grants in an Under-Resourced Region

photo:  Yury Shchipakin/shutterstock

photo:  Yury Shchipakin/shutterstock

When Funders for LGBTQ Issues released its first Out in the South report in 2014, it found that per capita, LGBTQ people in the southeastern United States were getting about a tenth of foundation funding of their counterparts in the Northeast. As we’ve seen before, that disparity isn’t isolated to LGBTQ giving. But in a socially conservative region that’s home to nearly a third of “out” adults, there’s a clear need for capacity building.

The Out in the South Fund is helping to fill that gap. Housed at Funders for LGBTQ Issues, the fund has drawn support from the Arcus Foundation, the Chartrand Family Foundation, the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, the Freeman Foundation, Laughing Gull Foundation, and the Tides Foundation, among others. 

Now in its second year of grantmaking, the fund’s total outlay to date comes to around $1 million. That’s a relatively modest sum, but it represents a significant proportion of total LGBTQ giving in the South, which was hovering under $5 million when Funders for LGBTQ Issues began the initiative.

Out in the South’s 2017 grants look a lot like last year’s. The aim is to build capacity among local and regional funders working on LGBTQ issues, and to strengthen the connection between them. Instead of relying on a trickle of support from national funders, Out in the South envisions a strong, homegrown base of LGBTQ philanthropy. A key part of that strategy is galvanizing support for local grassroots organizations and letting LGBTQ Southerners lead the charge.

In an uncertain national climate, we’ve seen that community foundations can step up for the vulnerable in their vicinity. That’s been the case for immigrants and people of color, and it’s also a big part of the story of LGBTQ philanthropy since the 2015 marriage equality decision. A good number of 2017’s grantees are repeats from last year, and community funds make a strong showing. They include the Appalachian Community Fund, the Campaign for Southern Equality, the LGBT Community Fund for Northeast Florida, the Foundation for Louisiana, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, and the OUT Miami Foundation. 

Many grantees for both 2016 and 2017 are newly established funds, and we’ve covered several of these as they gear up, including the Community Fund for Northeast Florida's LGBT Community Fund. But Out in the South also builds upon older work by the National Lesbian and Gay Community Funding Partnership, which seeded over $9 million to community funds across the country during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Despite recent gains, capacity building in an under-resourced region clearly takes time.

But there’s reason for optimism. From 2012 to 2014, LGBTQ funding in the South more than doubled to $11.4 million. According to a 2015 tracking report, funding for LGBTQ work in the South rose by a further 52 percent between 2014 and 2015. Those are promising signs for LGBTQ advocates in the region, but quantity of support is only one metric. 

As the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy found in its research on effective Southern philanthropy, the region has a lot of grassroots power. But it’s not always easy to get money from the “left coasts” to local players capable of making the most change. By channeling support into capacity building for Southern LGBTQ community funds, national foundations like Arcus and others may be getting around that difficulty.