Philanthropic organizations are rallying for more LGBT donations

By : Stephen Miller
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More fundraisers are seeking LGBT funds, and not just from and for our own community.

LGBT people keep coming out, getting involved, marrying and mainstreaming –growing more acceptable in the larger society. Because of this, many fundraisers are reaching out with targeted marketing. It’s a significant shift from once quietly refusing LGBT donations or disregarding us to ones that now actively court our community.

“Same-sex marriage in the United States will create a fundamental shift in who keeps and holds the marital assets,” writes local fundraiser Michael Slaymaker in his Fall 2015 article in the national magazine Advancing Philanthropy, the publication for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).

Besides being treasurer and administrator in the Orlando branch of AFP, Slaymaker is the vice president of grants and planned giving at Easter Seals of Central Florida. He also is the president of Orlando Youth Alliance, a 25-year-old organization.

“If your fundraising organization does not have a strategy for attracting and engaging the LGBT segment of your community, you are going to miss out on this transfer of wealth,” he writes.

And what a transfer of wealth it is! Slaymaker estimates that, with 1,233 LGBT people getting their marriage license on Jan. 6, 2015, alone – the first day we were allowed to marry in Florida – the average estate value is $182,000. Multiplied, this is a total of nearly half a billion dollars in estate values. That’s just for that one single day of marriages in our own state!

“It truly is a new frontier when I talk to fundraisers,” says Slaymaker. “They always say, ‘I know we have gay and lesbian donors. I don’t pursue them as aggressively as I should.’”

These are subjects Slaymaker has addressed in his article, and in presentations in Orlando and Tampa.

“My goals include raising diversity issues, educating people and getting the whole community involved,” President of the Tampa chapter of AFP Judy Anderson, who invited Slaymaker to present there last year, says. Anderson is also the director of development for the public charter school Brooks Debartolo Collegiate High School.

“In the past, we brought in speakers to talk about the diversity,” Anderson says, “but it was the typical presentation employees would get. It wasn’t unique to us as fundraisers trying to know more about our community.”

As a subject matter expert, Slaymaker has now been invited to speak on the topic at International Conference on Fundraising (ICON) in late March in Boston.

“There’s no doubt groups are interested,” Slaymaker says.

“We all want to give to organizations and causes in our community that hit home, that pull at our heartstrings,” Anderson said when asked what she learned from Slaymaker’s presentation. “As fundraisers, we need to make those connections for our donor communities.”

Still Helping Our Own
Minority groups have always targeted their own, and the LGBT community is no different. As the president of Orlando Youth Alliance, Slaymaker says that sort of giving absolutely must continue.

“Ninety percent of people are not going to give to LGBT causes, so we need LGBT people to support our causes,” he says.

However, he also adds that LGBT people often have interests outside the community.

“LGBT people are going to love their pets, and are going to want to support the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, or maybe a pet rescue,” Slaymaker, who owns three dogs with his husband, jeweler George R. Bridges, says.

It’s also a part of LGBT people fitting into and being responsible to the larger community.

“That’s how we’re going to break down those stereotypes that we’re just for ourselves. For example, I’ve supported Jewish causes, because I deeply care about the Holocaust Center, even though I’m not Jewish. We all appreciate somebody outside our core group supporting us; it means the world,” Slaymaker adds.

It’s LGBT citizens’ expanding role within the wider community – along with the untapped wealth of newly married couple who often do not have kids – that is encouraging fundraisers to learn more.

Opening the Door
When asked whether he was advocating that organizations that were not once gay-friendly now become more so because more funds are now available, Slaymaker had several things to say.

“Most of these organizations don’t think politically. They just follow the money.”

That may not have been the case in 2000, when Heart of Florida United Way asked their 78 member agencies to create inclusiveness policies. Faced with that edict, the Central Florida Boy Scouts refused, potentially losing $300,000 in funding, about 10 percent of the groups annual budget. The standoff was broken in 2001 when United Way and Boy Scouts agreed to create a “contract organization” designation, where the Boy Scouts would no longer be in the pool for non-designated funds and would have to be targeted by donors.

That didn’t make some locals happy. “Discrimination is discrimination, no matter how you look at it,” longtime LGBT activist and Metropolitan Business Association founder Debbie Simmons stated in a 2001 Orlando Sentinel article. “I think [United Way is] caving in.”

In fact, in 2000 and 2001, 74 of the 78 organizations United Way supports quickly changed their policies without much issue.

“We ask the entire community, regardless of their race, religion, or sex preference, whatever, to donate to the community,” United Way board member Matt Zavadsky stated at the time.

Zadavsky’s own Local Health Council of East Central Florida found implementing nondiscrimination policies easy: “Of course our group believes in nondiscrimination. We hadn’t thought to add it to our policies until this was brought up.”

Since then, the Boy Scouts of America removed their ban on gay scouts January 1, 2014, and their ban on gay adult leaders July 27, 2015. Their designation with Heart of Florida United Way still remains “contract organization.”

Does this mean that the Boy Scouts and other traditionally antagonist organizations would also follow the money and court LGBT donors?

“No, the strategy makers of the Boy Scouts and the Salvation Army are probably not going to change their policies,” Slaymaker concedes.

“This article and my presentation are more about how there are already people who are gay friendly; they just don’t know how to be gay friendly.”

“As fundraisers, we need to ask, ‘What is the best way to reach different communities of donors? How do they give, why do they give, what are the different causes, what are the trends?’” Anderson says.

Slaymaker adds, “There are a lot of fundraisers who are not familiar with our community and not familiar with how to work with LGBT folks – because they’re not typically around us. That’s why I wrote the article. I wanted to help nonprofit organizations realize that here is a minority group that is going to become exponentially wealthier.”

Slaymaker’s article offers these suggestions:

1. Create nondiscrimination policies and training for your entire organization – employees, clients, and donors: “Donors have a right to ask whether you have these in place,” Slaymaker says. Anderson confirms that AFP has that.

2. Network at local LGBT equality events: “There are always events going on where you can share information.”

Might this be stealing donors from the LGBT organization? Slaymaker counters, “It’s very possible that these organizations in turn help us by becoming members and sharing information.”

“We look at this as a way to get the word out, about what we do,” Vice President of Development with The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay Sandy McLaughlin says. They provide help 24 hours a day, every day of the year to people suffering from sexual assault or abuse, domestic violence, financial distress, substance abuse, medical emergency, suicidal thoughts and emotional or situational problems. “From that point of view, we are active in committees and with the Pride campaign,” she says.

3. Send press and media releases, and advertise in local LGBT publications:

“Most groups have nondiscrimination policies, but you wouldn’t know it,” says Slaymaker.

Slaymaker adds, “Diversity now includes trans support. That’s one of the areas that have really caught organizations off guard, behind the times.”

McLaughlin would love if the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay could advertise with their limited budget: “We don’t advertise in anything. We look for donated press and would love to get the information in LGBT press [like this article]; we work with publishers like Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine, Tampa Tribune, and Tampa Bay Times.”

4. Join the LGBT chamber of commerce, community center, and LGBT ally organizations:

In other words, show your support of your LGBT donors by, in turn, supporting the LGBT community.

“I admit that this is something our organization must work on,” Anderson says of Tampa’s AFP chapter. “Getting out there to LGBT organizations…and getting them to join us is a big goal of mine. Our chapter doesn’t currently do a good job of communicating outside of our own organization, and I want to change that.”

“You know, partnerships come about naturally because people happen to be in the same room at the same time,” Slaymaker says.

Keeping Everyone Giving
When asked what his toughest questions are, Slaymaker replies, “When I do the presentation, I have people ask, ‘What if I have a very conservative donor group or volunteers, and they go ‘I don’t want to be a donor with those people.’”

Slaymaker counters: “In fundraising, there is always a good policy, and that is to bring those people back to the mission. That’s what I suggest. Ask them, ‘Why do you give money to us? Do you give money to us so that you can be in a group that’s exactly like you, or because you believe in what we do?’”

Slaymaker further says that, if a donor gets that upset that they leave over LGBT donors, they were just looking for a reason to leave.

Helping Our Own
This means – as we make sizeable donations or plan our estates for large bequests –LGBT people have the right to ask some questions of fundraisers and organizations:

1. If it’s a large enough organization, ask if they have LGBT employees and if you could talk to them: If they do not know if they have LGBT employees, that could be a good indication that they’re not very aware or welcoming.

“We had this in my old organization,” Anderson said. “But I’m not sure if we have it at the school [Brookes Debartolo]. This conversation is going to lead me to hang up and go talk with our principle about this right now.”

2. Ask what sort of diversity training the organization supplies for its employees and volunteers.

3. Ask what the organization is doing for the LGBT community.

“That doesn’t always mean that their organization is LGBT focused,” confirms Slaymaker. However, organizations should know how their program reaches our community.

‘That is a hope of mine, that people will look at their organizations and ask what they are doing for the ten percent of the population that is LGBT. I look at organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs. Do they – or Boys Ranch – have specific programs for LGBT youth who come to your facilities? I bet you a buck they do not! And then should they? Or do they have a programmatic belief that they treat everyone the same?”

“Well, you don’t treat them differently,” Slaymaker continues, “But do these LGBT youth have special needs that you need to respond to? And if donors find out that the group doesn’t do anything and don’t ever plan to, then why are we supporting them?”

Slaymaker concludes hopefully, “Perhaps it’s just a case of organizations not knowing how. And donor funds can go to start those special programs. Maybe they’re just looking for your help in getting that started.”

“We are keenly aware that LGBT people – along with everyone else – need to know we have resources they may someday need,” says McLaughlin of The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.

4. Definitely do your homework on where the money goes! Ask how much of your donation goes to administrative costs or to high executive salaries; Slaymaker suggests that should be below 25 percent of the total donation.

You can also check CharityWatch.org, GiveWell.org, or other websites that monitor costs like this.

5. Also, know what your money actually pays for specifically! In Florida, especially, nonprofit organizations can be fronts, raising money to line for-profit business’s earnings. This is called “hybrid social benefit,” and it is becoming more and more popular. For example, a nonprofit could exist merely to help a for-profit mental institution remodel and upgrade, so that grounds improvements don’t affect already high executive salaries.

Claiming Our Power
The question then becomes whether these organizations will listen to LGBT people for their funds.

“The world is changing,” Slaymaker says, “and fundraisers have to respond to it. They have to follow the wealth, and this is a new, largely untapped resource.”

Take the case of Elliott Mitchell, 65, and Clark West, 60, of Sarasota Florida. They met at University of Alabama, and 10 years ago, donated $1 million to their Alma Mater. The couple married in Hawaii in 2013. They had planned to leave their estate, estimated at $15 million, to the university.

After the University of Alabama rejected to couple’s offer to fund a new community outreach center that would include LGBT students, Mitchell and West rescinded their bequest in March of 2015.

An Advocate article reported the men wrote in a letter to the university, “We understand the conflict of well-intended people struggling to find balance with this issue. But, we also realize there is no support in the legislature or initiatives at the University to create a dialogue. Instead, there is a very strong and continued effort by the state and the majority of its citizens to exclude this group in every way possible.”

Slaymaker uses this case as an example: “I ask the room of fundraisers, ‘Put yourself in the shoes of Vice President of Advancement at University of Alabama. What do you do? You have to find another $15 million somewhere else or try to get these men back.’”

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