Meet One of the Top New Leaders in the LGBT Funding World

After a transfer of power over a year in the making, Courtney Cuff has officially taken over as President and CEO of the Denver-based Gill Foundation (see Gill Foundation: Grants for LGBT). Cuff replaces Tim Sweeney, an enormously popular figure at Gill who steered the ship for more than six years.

While Gill has been around for nearly two decades and has a very strong institutional culture, this change in leadership is notable because Cuff comes from a very different professional background than Sweeney. Sweeney is a tremendously respected and well-known figure in the LGBT movement and has been directly involved in it for 35 years. He worked with LGBT icon Harvey Milk. Tim Gill calls him a "pioneer" in the struggle for gay rights. Sweeney was about as non-controversial a choice to lead a foundation dedicated to the LGBT movement as anyone in the country.

Cuff, on the other hand, is a very interesting choice, because while she does have an impressive resume in the nonprofit sector, she has not been professionally involved in any significant capacity in the LGBT movement specifically. She spent the last six years as CEO of the Western Conservation Foundation, which she co-founded. The organization grew exponentially under Cuff's leadership. Her earlier work was also focused on issues relating to conservation and the environment. 

Cuff describes herself as "tenacious, creative, and energetic." She "loves winning" and is "most interested in effecting positive change that affects our world." The Gill Foundation clearly sees something in Cuff to trust her in this kind of leadership role, despite her almost certainly lacking the kinds of contacts and connections that come with years of consistent, high-level involvement in the LGBT movement. 

Gill evidently wanted some fresh thinking at the executive management level. The founder has praised Cuff's "entrepreneurial spirit, unique combination of advocacy and philanthropic experience, and relentless approach to fundraising." It's the last of these that may hold the most weight: Cuff does indeed have a long track record of effective fundraising, going back to her work with the National Parks Conservation Association in the early 2000s. Although Cuff is a home town choice, as she has been based in Denver for most of her professional career, she will nonetheless be dealing with a number of new donors. Gill is betting that her fundraising prowess will translate smoothly from one field to another.

With respect to Gill's grantmaking, this has always been a foundation willing to explore new, innovative ways to defend the rights of LGBTs, at both the state and national levels. This figures to continue, perhaps even accelerate, with an outsider like Cuff assuming the reins.