LGBT community boasts 25-year-history of giving to charity dating back to start of AIDS epidemic in early 1980s
Last year’s Kuchling Award winner Jay Oppenheimer says philanthropy among the LGBT community started 25 years ago with the AIDS epidemic.
“When those we cared about started facing death, we thought that we needed to take care of our friends. We needed to help them. We couldn’t just sit by and do nothing,” he said.
“So our community rallied together to raise funds for what we hoped would be a quick cure. The fundraising has stuck around ever since.”
During a program presented by the Gay and Lesbian Fund of Dallas and the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, Tuesday, July 17 at the Dallas Museum of Art, Oppenheimer made a joke that in this city, you can’t go a week without attending at least one charity function.
He might be on to something. When you search for the word benefit in the Dallas Voice’s online archive, 425 occurrences pop up in the last year.
With so much giving going on, Oppenheimer encouraged the audience to make sure they are getting the most benefit out of their charitable dollars.
“Part of it is just a feeling of truly doing good that you get. But at the same time, there is no need to be ashamed of putting your philanthropy to work for you as well as the community,” Oppenheimer said.
In order to do that, he proposed three questions to ask when donating money or time: “Does philanthropy fit in your budget? How can it work for you? And can you measure the ROI, or return on investment?”
For Oppenheimer, philanthropy can fit in any person’s budget.
“Even if you can’t afford to give finically, you can always donate your time and effort,” he said.
Oppenheimer also carries this message to corporations.
“Don’t be afraid to budget for philanthropy in untraditional places such as marketing and advertisement,” he said.
This brought him to his next point. Philanthropy should work for the giver as well as the receiver.
To illustrate this, Oppenheimer shared his personal experience of owning a Weight Watchers franchise. About five years ago, Weight Watchers partnered with the American Cancer Society for the Great American Weigh In after studies proved that obesity was a leading cause of cancer.
Oppenheimer’s franchise also used the event to support Relay for Life, a walk to end cancer. He says that within a short time, the business saw an increase in customers because of the associations.
“Business philanthropy is what I call niche advertising because you can target a specific group,” Oppenheimer said. “This was a great example of that. By helping a cause, everyone associated with it learned about our project. We had people coming in saying that since they saw our information on the ACS’s Web site, then we must be a good program. It not only got our name out to this group, but we had the power of positive association with a medical giant.”
Oppenheimer’s experience is not isolated. According to the 2007 Cone Cause Evolution Survey, 86 percent of people polled felt that the were very or somewhat likely to switch from one like brand to another if they felt that the company was associated with a cause.
Oppenheimer’s third question aims to figure out which charitable group will give the best return for the money, like ACS did for Weight Watchers. He says that even when this answer cannot be made in dollar amounts, there is always some measure that works.
Mike McKay, the executive director of the Resource Center of Dallas, agrees. He says that every charity should be prepared to explain the benefit of donated dollars. For an example, he cited replacing windows at AIDS Services of Dallas, an organization that provides low-cost housing for those infected with HIV.
“By doing that, you help them increase energy efficiency and cut their costs. This ultimately helps people, and you should know every step of that when making your contribution,” McKay said. “Absolutely, there is a measurable return on investment.”
Oppenheimer says that by asking these three questions you can maximize your benefits while helping a good cause.
“I assure you, that you will get back more than you put in,” he said. “If nothing else, I think it is very important for most of us from time to time to forget about ourselves and concentrate on someone else.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 13, 2007