Michael Fleming, David Bohnett Foundation

TITLE: Executive Director

FUNDING AREAS: LGBT issues, education, gun violence, and the arts

CONTACT: michael@bohnett.com, (310) 276-0001

IP TAKE: Fleming has been involved with David Bohnett's philanthropy from the early days, and is wired into the LGBT funding world. 

PROFILE: Michael Fleming has been executive director at the David Bohnett Foundation since 2000. Bohnett made a fortune back in the late 1990s by selling GeoCities to Yahoo, and Fleming has been his right-hand man in all matters philanthropic and political ever since. (Fleming also serves as Bohnett's political director.) 

Before joining the foundation, Fleming had a number of short stints in media-related advocacy positions, most prominently as media director of the nation's largest ACLU affiliate, based in Southern California. He's also been a producer and director for several outlets, including PBS and NPR affiliates, and has worked in both Boston and Los Angeles. Fleming has a BA from Colorado College and was a Victory Fellow (now Bohnett Fellow) at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Fleming is highly respected in the world of social justice and philanthropic activism. He was appointed by President Obama in 2010 to the White House Council For Community Solutions, a group charged with "encouraging the growth and maximizing the impact of innovative, community-developed solutions to address some of our nation's most serious challenges." In 2012, he received the California Rural Legal Assistance Fund's Cruz Reynos-Don Quixote Award, given to an individual "who has taken a leadership role in difficult situations, when those around them perceive victory to be unattainable, and for pushing the envelope to protect the rights and well-being of poor communities." And in August 2013, L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti nominated Fleming to serve on the Board of Water and Power Commissioners, a five-member panel that oversees the nation’s largest public utility. (Bohnett previously served as the President of the East Los Angeles Area Planning Commission and as a Commissioner on the Board of the Los Angeles Convention Center.)

The David Bohnett Foundation has distributed over $50 million in grants since 1999, and Fleming has been the key player in the decision-making process. Fleming plays a very active role in grantmaking; he personally evaluates all requests, makes recommendations, establishes expectations and communicates them to grantees, tracks the progress and efficacy of grants, and provides consultation to grantees. The foundation focuses on several areas of advocacy, with little or no connection to one another, and invests heavily. Its straightforward mission is "improving society through social activism."

Despite the foundation's diverse portfolio, which includes education, gun violence, the arts, and animal rights, roughly 60% to 70% of its grants are awarded to LGBT groups and organizations. This is clearly the advocacy area that the organization is most inspired to fund. Fleming calls the foundation's LGBT work "very personal" for him and Bohnett, both of whom are gay:

I think we're passionate about it because it's our lives and our rights and I think, as a funder, it's the most important work we can be doing.

While LGBT issues represent Fleming's leading priority, he has given special attention to marriage equality in particular. The foundation spent considerable resources in its home state of California on the fight against Prop 8, which has now been won, and has supported the drive for marriage equality around the country. Overall, the foundation has directed more than $17 million toward a wide range of LGBT issues, with virtually all mainstream LGBT organizations working at the national level showing up on the foundation's grantee list at one time or another.

But like most funders in the LGBT space, the Bohnett Foundation has been looking beyond the marriage equality issue. In any case, Fleming's leadership 

Fleming is not the kind of director who picks his spots and awards only a few grants per year. LGBT grantmaking at the foundation is unusually prolific; the pace has consistently exceeded one grant per week, with annual totals typically ranging from $1.3 to $1.6 million. Money has gone out in an extremely wide range of grants, from $500 to $50,000, suggesting that this funder keeps an open mind and does not only listen to appeals from high-profile organizations.

LGBT issues in California are of particular interest to the foundation, and any groups doing interesting work on behalf of LGBTs in that state should definitely have this funder on their radar, if they don't already. The foundation has also embraced grantmaking for transgender advocacy to a greater extent than some of his peers in the field. Though it remains a small piece of the overall LGBT grantmaking pie, transgender advocacy has exploded in recent years, and grantseekers working in this area have a solid ally in Fleming.

Another area where the foundation is particularly strong is technology. Providing technological support to social activism is a big part of the foundation's mission; as an example, the foundation has awarded grants used to create more than 70 "cyber centers" that offer free computer use and Internet access to LGBTs. Sixty such centers currently exist across the United States.

One note: If you're interested in funding for a cyber center, the more appropriate person at the foundation to contact is Paul Moore. He is Bohnett's sole program officer, and the person who oversees all the cyber centers.