What New Data Reveals About the Long, Steady Rise of LGBTQ Giving

Following historic gains in 2017, LGBTQ giving by U.S. foundations rose for the sixth year in a row in 2018 to an unprecedented $209.2 million, Funders for LGBTQ Issues reported recently. Many records were set, including new levels of support for transgender communities and LGBTQ groups in the South—areas that were previously under-supported and that Funders for LGBTQ Issues has sharply focused on in recent years.

A standout finding was that the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences became the top grantmaker in this realm, both overall and domestically. This is the first time a corporate funder has taken this seat. We’ll explore some report highlights, and learn why one philanthropy professional compares LGBTQ funding to hot sauce.

A Key Corporate Funder Step Things Up

Gilead, which specializes in medicines used to treat and prevent HIV/AIDS, increased its funding for LGBTQ communities by 87% in 2018 and single-handedly accounted for 10% of all LGBTQ-related foundation funding. We’ve been tracking Gilead’s recent work fighting HIV/AIDS in the South, supporting trans communities and aging people with HIV, and more, along with other sources of corporate funding for LGBTQ issues. In 2018, its corporate foundation support for LGBTQ issues totaled a record $37.7 million.

After Gilead, the top 10 funders for these issues were the Arcus Foundation (which had held the top spot since 2013), Gill Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Ford Foundation, Tides Foundation, and Foundation for a Just Society, MAC AIDS Fund, Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. These are all established LGBTQ supporters, and together, they accounted for 46% of all foundation funding in this area. As Funders for LGBTQ Issues puts it, this shows the field “continues to be incredibly top-heavy,” but a positive note in this regard is that a record 450 foundations and corporations gave a record 6,636 grants in 2018.

As in 2017 and prior, private foundations were the biggest funders of LGBTQ causes, and also hit a new best at $106.3 million. Also for the second year in a row, non-LGBTQ private foundations gave the largest share of support (26%). Public foundation funding fell 5% between 2017 and 2018. Our contacts at Funders for LGBTQ Issues said some of this decrease is attributable to the end of the OneOrlando Fund’s distributions in 2017. Kan said, “In general, public foundation giving levels are on par with what they were in 2015, the year before the Pulse Nightclub Massacre.” The largest giving increase in a funder category was from anonymous donors, who gave out $22.8 million in 2018—46% more than the year before.

The Most Funded Groups and Causes

The South received the largest share of grant dollars for the second year in a row, with a 40% annual increase to $31.8 million. While the Midwest and Mountain States remain the bottom two regions, they both saw increases in funding. “Gratefully, for the first time since we began this analysis of local, statewide, and regional LGBTQ funding, at least some LGBTQ funding was identified in each of the 50 states,” the publication stated.

About 75% of LGBTQ grants in 2018 targeted the LGBTQ community broadly. Transgender people received the largest amount of identity-specific funding, followed by gay and queer men, and men who have sex with men (MSM); followed by lesbians and queer women. Support for intersex communities followed, then bisexual, and finally, asexual people. These last three groups received 1% or less of all funding. Domestic funding for LGBTQ communities of color and LGBTQ children and youth rose in 2018.

Programmatic support comprised the most common funding (46%), though general operating support was not far behind (41%). As in previous years, advocacy was the most-supported strategy, and civil and human rights the most popular issue. The top five grantees overall were GLAAD, SAGE, the Palm Center, Freedom for All Americans, and the National LGBTQ Task Force.

Groups with missions explicitly focused on LGBTQ issues received 62% of funding for domestic organizations in 2018, and non-LGBTQ-focused organizations received 37%. But for the third consecutive year, the percentage of funding for LGBTQ organizations decreased relative to the funding for non-LGBTQ organizations. Non-LGBTQ groups include the ACLU, HIV/AIDS service providers, universities and groups that carry out research or intersectional advocacy.

We asked Kan whether it was a concern for non-LGBTQ-specific groups to be receiving increased funding. He said yes and no. One pro is that in some geographic areas, there are no LGBTQ-specific groups to provide specialized programming, so non-LGBTQ organizations fill an important role. A con, he says, is that “many LGBTQ nonprofits, particularly grassroots groups led by queer and trans people of color, have been doing incredible work without funding for a long time.” He says these and larger LGBTQ groups struggled financially even before COVID-19, and now are at risk for shutdowns. “So while it can be wise to fund non-LGBTQ organizations to fund LGBTQ work, it is also imperative to support LGBTQ-specific organizations.”

The Funders for LGBTQ Issues tracking reports focus on foundation and corporate giving, not that of individual donors or government agencies. And only a brief overview of global funding by U.S. foundations is given, which fell by 2% in 2018. More information on global LGBTQ funding can be found in the biennial Global Resources Report, which this affinity group publishes with the Global Philanthropy Project.

In other news from Funders for LGBTQ Issues, longtime President Ben Francisco Maulbeck is leaving the group this summer. The organization published a full position description, with applications due in May.

It’s “Hot Sauce,” Not a “Unicorn”

Kan says, “While we are pleased to see the increase in funding, we have to remember that LGBTQ issues remain underfunded by philanthropy overall,” and that there is “need across the board.” In 2018, for every $100 given by U.S. foundations, 28 cents was specifically dedicated to LGBTQ issues.

We asked about persistent challenges in this funding movement. Kan discussed several, including LGBTQ philanthropy’s top-heavy nature, which means that any change in grantmaking from a top funder can have a big impact on the field. Grantmaker recruitment and retention is another related challenge. Kan says, “Philanthropy is slow moving,” and that getting foundation commitments for meaningful LGBTQ funding and retaining non-LGBTQ-specific grantmakers is time- and energy-intensive.

Kan also discusses the perception that LGBTQ work is somehow “special or unique.” He hears over and over from funders, “Oh, I’m an LGBTQ ally, personally, but our foundation doesn’t fund LGBTQ issues.” But, he says, “The truth is that LGBTQ issues are not a magical unicorn; LGBTQ issues are normal people issues… [They] connect with just about every grantmaking priority imaginable.

“Bottom line is, we are just people; we need health services, advocacy organizations, [and] support for our arts and culture endeavors. You don’t need to cook up something completely different to support LGBTQ issues. Just as you might add some hot sauce to your meal, add some LGBTQ to your grantmaking.”

This article originally appeared in InsidePhilanthropy on April 15, 2020.