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Lesbian and gay fund on the move

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Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Six years ago, fundraising in the local lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, known as LGBT, consisted mainly of a handful of dinner parties and special events like gay bingo.

Wanting to broaden its base of support and increase awareness of LGBT issues, a handful of leaders began talking together about developing a community-wide LGBT fundraising strategy.

That effort led to creation of the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund at Foundation for the Carolinas, one of the first two LGBT funds in North Carolina accepted into a challenge-grant program by the New York City-based National Lesbian and Gay Community Funding Partnership, now known as Funders for Gay and Lesbian Issues.

Overseen and run by a 12-member advisory board, the fund has raised $130,000 locally, secured two matching grants of $25,000 each from the National Funding Partnership, and made grants totaling $57,000 to provide operating support for local LGBT groups and help them partner with other organizations.

It also served as the catalyst for Foundation for the Carolinas to adopt policies that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation, a move followed by other employers like Duke Energy, Presbyterian Healthcare, and Mecklenburg County.

“It’s been enormously significant for Charlotte,” says Tom Warshauer, economic development manager for the City of Charlotte and chair of the advisory board for the Charlotte Lesbian and Gay Fund.

The fund also is working to create an endowment that will provide long-term operating support for LGBT groups.

The strategy, Warshauer says, has been to engage business and civic leaders and help them better understand the work of LGBT groups, not only by seeking their contributions, but also by involving them in making decisions about grants to those groups.

“If they became more familiar with what we did, they would be more comfortable supporting us with estate gifts,” Warshauer says.

In 2004, with a $10,000 grant from the National Funding Partnership, the local group hired the Urban Institute at UNC-Charlotte to assess the needs of local LGBT groups.

The study found Charlotte was home to over 50 LGBT groups, not including those focusing on HIV/AIDS, and that those groups were underfunded and understaffed, lacked development directors, and needed unrestricted funding to support their operations.

Because those groups counted mainly on special events to raise money, and lacked endowments, the leaders organizing the broader fundraising effort decided to focus on endowment fundraising.

“You need to have an endowment, where people can leave money, and also you have to have the whole community networking and not be insular,” Warshauer says.

The National Funding Partnership offered a matching grant for the new group to create a fund at Foundation for the Carolinas, which then could serve as a bridge to business and civic leaders in the community.

So, borrowing the strategy of the Women’s Impact Fund at the foundation, the new group invited donors giving $1,000 or more a year to help make decisions on grants.

With over 30 donors already at that level, the fund aims in four years to be “self-sustaining” by roughly doubling the number of donors giving $1,000 or more, and raising $500,000 in endowment.

That would allow the fund to make grants totaling $75,000 a year.

Engaging the business community is key to the future of the fund, which also has created a Stonewall Legacy Society recognizing donors who provide for the fund in their wills, Warshauer says.

An inaugural luncheon for the fund May 1 at the Omni Charlotte Hotel attracted over 180 people and netted over $10,000, mainly through sponsorships from Food Lion,
Wachovia Securities and individuals.

The fund, and its partnership with Foundation for the Carolinas, Warshauer says, is showing “a lot of people that Charlotte could be a place they could invest in for their future.”

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