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Diversity Essay: a glimpse at the gay and lesbian donor

Resource Center - Foundation

The views expressed herein are those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, or the organizations with which the authors are affiliated.

By Donna Red Wing, The Gill Foundation
AFP Colorado Chapter

For many years, gay and lesbian giving was conventional. We gave to our universities and to hospitals, to places and issues as predictable as anyone else. We have not abandoned that giving. We have, however, begun to fund issues that directly impact gay and lesbian people. Our response, in part, to the AIDS/HIV epidemic was philanthropic. We gave to prevent infection, to educate, to provide for those living and dying with AIDS/HIV and we gave towards discovering a cure. Our charitable response to the epidemic began to enlarge and change how, where and why we gave.

We also began to identify, in a public manner, as gay men and lesbians. Our giving began to reflect that gay-identified comfort. In fact, we began to give as same-gendered couples and as gay families. And we insisted that who we were, as donors, be accepted, celebrated and acknowledged.

Many gay donors responded to a growing maturity of the gay movement. As our political and advocacy organizations began to gain currency within mainstream politics, we funded them. As our legal organizations showed legislative and litigious sophistication, we funded them. Gay and lesbian donors began to respond to the maturation and growth of the lesbian and gay movement. Our giving became personal, political and powerful.

A recent study by IGLSS, the Institute of Gay & Lesbian Strategic Studies, indicates that gay and lesbian donors give more of their personal income to non-profit organizations than the general population.

  • Gay donors: 2.5 percent or $1,194.
  • General population: 2.2 percent or $1,017.

A Harris Interactive poll, sponsored by the Gill Foundation indicates the following:

  • 25 percent of the respondents make financial or in-kind contributions to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (lgbt) organizations.
  • 23 percent contributed money to a political party or candidate.
  • 22 percent said that it was important to contribute time or money to candidates who support gay and lesbian issues.

A national survey conducted by the Denver-based research organization, Ordinary Magic, explored the reasons lesbians give to women's organizations:

  • Strong belief in mission: 74 percent. 
  • Empathy for cause(s) supported: 57 percent. 

As well as factors that influenced their decision to give:

  • Reputation/Track record: 71 percent. 
  • Lesbian/gay friendly: 70 percent. 
  • Type of people served: 69 percent. 
  • Personal passion commitment: 69 percent.
  • Belief the gift will make a difference: 63 percent.
  • In addition, 20 percent of the lesbians surveyed said that they did not give because they were not asked.

Gay and lesbian donors are, for the most part, intentional. We give for many of the same reasons everyone else gives. Giving helps us to communicate who we are. The research we have considered indicates that gay and lesbian donors:

  • Donate more than the average American.
  • Invest in organizations they are passionate about.
  • Invest in organizations that are lesbian/gay friendly.
  • Invest where they believe their gift will make a difference.
  • Purchase tickets to events.
  • Give to gay and lesbian organizations.
  • Give to equal rights and social justice organizations.
  • Support arts and culture.
  • Support health programming.
  • Give to political candidates and causes.
  • Support community centers.
  • Support legal organizations.
  • Take responsibility for and maintain their own organizations.
  • Give to help other LGBT people.
  • Contribute to social and political change.
  • Who are out give more.
  • Who volunteer give more.
  • Are more active as volunteers than non-gay volunteers.
  • Give substantially to non-gay causes, including higher education and religion.
  • Give through the United Way campaigns and support. many other traditional institutional fundraising methods.

Fundraising professionals should note that gay and lesbian donors give about one half of their gifts to the LGBT community. That means that the other half is gifted to mainstream and other non-gay organizations.

In his book, "The Tipping Point" Malcolm Gladwell talks about creating a social epidemic. That is what gay and lesbian philanthropy can be about -- a focused, concentrated "giving" that has the potential to create the social epidemic that assures equality for gay and lesbian Americans.

Fundraising professionals who choose to work with the gay and lesbian donor should be aware of the reasons we give. And where we give. And, should make sure that their institutions respect and embrace gay and lesbian equality. They should be able to demonstrate fair hiring procedures, employment non-discrimination, domestic partnership benefits and other employment and business practices that demonstrate a commitment to equality.

If the relationship with the gay donor is reciprocal in terms of respect, inclusion and acknowledgement, it can be a prosperous and rewarding one.

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