Paul A. Di Donato, Proteus Fund

TITLE: Civil Marriage Collaborative Director

 

FUNDING AREAS: LGBT marriage equality

CONTACT: Visit PeopleFinder for email and phone number (paid subscribers only)

IP TAKE: Di Donato is a powerful and persuasive player in the marriage equality arena, and he has formed an impressive network of funding partners. He continues to award grants by invitation only.

 

PROFILE: Paul Di Donato became head of the Civil Marriage Collaborative (CMC) at the Proteus Fund in November 2007. He has been involved in the world of activism, advocacy, and philanthropy for more than 25 years, focusing primarily on HIV/AIDS, LGBT issues, civil rights, and social justice. Prior to joining Proteus, Di Donato spent eight years as executive director of Funders Concerned About AIDS (FCAA). Before that, he served as public policy director and federal affairs director at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and as executive director and legal director of National Gay Rights Advocates. Since 2000, Di Donato has been a trustee of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, one of the largest HIV grantmaking organizations in the United States. He spent the early part of his career as a litigator, specializing in civil rights law, after earning his JD from Harvard Law School in 1985.

 

Di Donato describes his program as a "funding collaborative of 10 national and regional grantmakers supporting strategic public education and advocacy efforts in a number of states with concrete plans to advance marriage equality." These funding partners include Horizons, Calamus, and several other big names. The CMC is the largest funder of state-based marriage equality efforts in the United States, having awarded $1.7 million in grants in 2013 and nearly $17 million in total grants from 2004 to 2013.

Organizations in states in which marriage equality is a realistic, short-term possibility have been the primary beneficiaries of grants from Di Donato.

 

As with the overall Proteus Fund, which has distributed more than $110 million in total grants, the CMC's philosophy under Di Donato is to stress success and only provide grants that will yield tangible victories for the LGBT movement. The CMC's grants are by invitation only, which means that grantseekers better have a strong case and a record of LGBT-related achievement if they want to get Di Donato's attention. Cold calls to Di Donato are unlikely to get you anywhere.

 

Di Donato has maintained a laserlike focus on marriage equality over the years, and the program traditionally has not been interested in branching out beyond the mission implied by its title to fund a broad range of issues related to LGBT rights. That approach seems to be changing, though. In 2013, the program began to take a more "multipronged" approach, emphasizing public education on LGBT issues while pursuing only those efforts that empirical evidence suggests are particularly effective. Grants have ranged from $25,000 to $680,000 under Di Donato's leadership; he is not someone who is interested in spreading his program's funds around thinly and awarding $500 to any group doing interesting work on marriage equality or LGBT issues. Grantees are typically high-profile, well-resourced organizations, such as the ACLU of New Mexico, Freedom to Marry, and Basic Rights Education Fund. Small and very local organizations probably won't get far here.

 

Di Donato, who graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania before going on to Harvard Law School, is unusually well-connected in the world of LGBT funding, and he is quite savvy about allocating his funds in a way that will most effectively advance the march toward marriage equality. Backed by a large bankroll at his program, with a record devoid of any small grants and a by-invitation-only policy, Di Donato is a feasible option only for those grantseekers operating at the elite level of LGBT activism and advocacy.