Our prior coverage of LGBTQ grantmaking in the American South has often focused on big national funders finally taking notice of this underserved region’s needs and chipping in to spark local efforts. However, it’s often local community foundations that are providing steadier support throughout the year and getting the word out to residents about the LGBTQ services that exist in the area.
A growing number of community foundations manage LGBTQ funds, which are often new, small and experimental. While the grant amounts coming out of these funds are very modest, they can lead to bigger opportunities for collaborations among nonprofits in the region and even with big-name foundations with deep pockets that occasionally swoop in.
As we’ve often reported, there’s quite a bit of new philanthropic activity in the American South right now to empower vulnerable communities and build stronger networks of grassroots organizations. As part of a push to accelerate efforts at structural change, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and Grantmakers for Southern Progress recently produced a series of five reports titled “As the South Grows” that draw on over 150 interviews with local leaders. While this research underscores how much work is still required by funders in this region, we’re constantly running across important grantmaking already underway. Such efforts span a range of issues—including worker rights, gender equity and climate adaptation—but the growth of LGBTQ funding in recent years has been especially notable. Some of this is coordinated through the Out in the South Fund, which is housed at Funders for LGBTQ Issues, and has drawn support from national funders like the Arcus Foundation and regional players like the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. A key goal of the fund it to spark more giving in the region for LGBTQ issues.
One example of new local grantmaking action in this space is the LGBTQ Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, which has been boosted by an Out in the South grant, enabling it to match all donations by 50 percent up to $80,000. This particular fund in Alabama started awarding grants three years ago, and it awarded a record amount this year. Seven nonprofits serving the Alabama counties of Blount, Jefferson, Shelby, St. Clair and Walker are splitting a new pool of $30,000 to advance their efforts in local LGBTQ communities. The most recent batch of grantees includes AIDS Alabama, Alabama Moving Image Association’s SHOUT About Youth Program, the Steel City Men’s Chorus, and Transgender Advocate Knowledgeable Empowering.
What’s interesting about this LGBTQ fund, besides the fact that it’s still pretty new, is the breadth of its grantmaking agenda. For example, the fund looks to provide capacity-building support to strengthen nonprofits that serve LGBTQ people and also to support the provision of services these organizations provide. Meanwhile, it aims to educate the LGBTQ community about key issues, support relevant public policy and social justice issues, and also boost collaboration between LGBTQ groups and other community organizations.
This last focus is a particularly important one because many people view LGBTQ nonprofits as islands, disconnected from other predominantly straight groups and not necessarily as privy to the public/private collaborations that bring in the big money.
Yet as one of the largest cities in the South, Birmingham is a place that other communities look to for guidance and a model to follow. Funds like this require the support of local donors who are willing to take a stand for their beliefs and put their dollars toward equity. Coming out in the South still has a certain social stigma, but slowly, it is lessening with awareness, education and the donations of prominent and respectable community members.
Each of this community foundation’s newest LGBTQ Fund grantees received between $1,000 and $6,800, but fund giving is on the rise and more opportunities are available each year. This fund has been recognized nationally for its efforts, and its Out in the South matching grant should accelerate the fund’s momentum right now to create a more inclusive and accepting Alabama.
The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham’s fund accepts unsolicited grant proposals once per year in the summer. The best opportunities here are with programs that serve communities of color, youth, the elderly and rural areas. Birmingham’s LGBTQ fund also prioritizes programs that bridge the gap between religious faith and LGBTQ acceptance, as well as programs that serve the local transgender and non-conforming populations.