A look out philanthropy in the LGBT community: How, when and why we give
For many in the LGBT community, charitable giving is a way of life. This is a community that hasn’t just thrived on philanthropy. We have survived because of it.
In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, gay men were the hardest-hit demographic. And it was the LGBT community that stepped up first to care for those who were falling ill and dying. It was this community that created the nonprofit organizations — many of which continue to this day, 30 years later — that provided care and comfort of all kinds. We donated our time and our money to those organizations because they were keeping our people alive.
The LGBT community has always been a main go-to source for politicians looking to fund their campaigns, even when they didn’t want anyone else to know where the money came from. Our community’s political donations have helped make it possible for progressive elected officials to take office at all levels of government from city councils and local school boards, all the way up to the White House. Those progressive officials have passed laws protecting LGBT equality, and put in place, in many instances including at the U.S. Supreme Court level, a judiciary that enforces and upholds those laws.
Our charitable giving has paved the way for our progress. It has helped make our community, and in fact the world around us, a better place to be. LGBT philanthropy isn’t just concentrated within the LGBT community, but even if it were, there is no shortage of options.
HIV/AIDS, cancer, civil rights, politics, education, animals, the environment — the list goes on and on. So how do we choose were and how we give? Dallas LGBT activist/philanthropic couple Marla Custard and Karen McCrocklin said that choice is intensely personal.
Making the choice
“Our community has gotten so diverse and so large. We don’t always know what’s going on everywhere,” McCrocklin said, adding that like many people, she and Custard often rely on friends for advice on the best direction for their charitable efforts.
One recent example is their efforts to help Resource Center complete its capital campaign to build a new facility near the intersection of Cedar Springs and Inwood roads.
They had heard of the effort, of course, but hadn’t fully comprehended the scope of the project and its purpose. “We were late to the party in a way,” McCrocklin said. But once they gained “a depth of understanding about it,” Custard added. “We were like, oh my god, this is amazing!”
But the couple didn’t just settle for donating to the campaign themselves. They brought together a diverse group of friends for a dinner party to listen to a presentation on the center and its plans, thus inspiring many of their friends to donate, too.
It was a personal call that sparked their interest, so they made some personal calls, too. “A personal call can be a great inspiration,” Custard said. “It was such a gift for us when we took the time to learn about the capital campaign and the whole project, and I wanted to turn around and give that gift to others, too.”
McCrocklin noted that the dinner party didn’t just generate financial donations for Resource Center’s capital campaign, it also “contributed to the collective energy of the project. It helped get people excited about what’s happening.”
Giving outside the community
McCrocklin and Custard said their first instinct is always to direct their philanthropy to efforts within the LGBT community. But there are other causes — like The Nature Conservancy — that also catch their attention.
Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas is an organization that gives LGBT people a chance to aggregate their charitable donations and direct them to non-LGBT nonprofits as a way of putting a face on the community and hopefully breaking down some of the stereotypes and bigotry the larger community often directs toward the LGBT community.
But GLFD keeps its priorities in order: To be a recipient of GLFD funds, the organization must include sexual orientation as a protected category in its policies.
Brian Walker, co-chair of an upcoming event to benefit the SPCA, explained that once GLDF identifies an area or organization it would like to help, the group’s members look for ways their donation can make a significant impact.
For example, proceeds from the SPCA event, Project Ruffway, will go towards purchasing an emergency rescue trailer. The vehicle will be retrofitted with air conditioning and allow vets to provide onsite emergency medical care to animals being rescued.
The truck will be wrapped with the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas logo to highlight the philanthropic giving that goes on in the LGBT community.
“We’d never done anything for animals before,” Walker said. “As we looked, we zeroed in on the SPCA.”
And who in our community doesn’t love the SPCA, Walker added.
In 2013, GLFD wanted to do something for education. Members first considered a project for DISD, but decided the school district was too large for anything the group could do to make a significant impact. Then as they looked further, they discovered that the Trinity River Audubon Center was hosting lots of school groups.
The GLFD fundraiser held at TRAC funded a Plexiglass pond that tens of thousands of students and other visitors see at the center each year. The pond is labeled as a gift from the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Dallas.
GLFD raises funds for other projects on an ongoing basis rather than through one-time-only events. For example, more than $50,000 per year for the Dallas Museum of Art is either funneled through GLFD or given directly to the museum. And GLFD will be listed as a producer of the upcoming Dallas Theater Center production of Dream Girls because of donations to the theater given through the group.
In some instances, small donations become part of a larger campaign. Walker called it the power of leveraging. The goal, he said, is bridge-building and goodwill between the LGBT community and the rest of the city.
GLFD’s ongoing campaign to raise money for KERA results in the opportunity for GLFD to promote future events through the station, which announces “GLFD is a proud to present the following program” and then mentions details of the next GLFD event.
Walker said he expects Project Ruffway to raise the $125,000 the SPCA needs for the rescue truck. More than $32,000 has already come in, and ticket sales, a silent auction, additional donations and a matching grant should make up the balance.
What’s surprising, he noted, isn’t that the LGBT community in Dallas is doing this as an ongoing project to make a difference in the city, but that Denver is the only other city in the U.S. doing the same thing.
Time is money
But donating money isn’t the only way the LGBT community gives back to the larger North Texas community. As Custard and McCrocklin noted, donating your time is just as important — sometimes even more so — than donating your money.
“For these nonprofit organizations, sometimes money is time,” Custard said, recalling her grandparents who lived in rural Mississippi and always made a point to contribute to their community, “even before they had money to give. They believed things like education and the arts were vital to the community and that philanthropy was a way of investing in their community.
“I believe that, too,” she continued. “You should invest in your community, whatever that community and whatever that investment looks like for you. You give what you have to give, whether that’s time or money. With my grandparents, when they had little, they gave a little. When they had a lot, they gave a lot.”
McCrocklin agreed. “Whether you are donating time or money, the desire to help comes from the exact same place. And what and how you give can change over time. I know when I had less money to give, I tended to give more of my time. Now that I have more money, I have less time to give. But that just means I am able to give more money instead.”
Gay For Good members know about giving of their time, performing monthly volunteer projects for non-LGBT nonprofit organizations. Unlike GLFD, which hasn’t branched out to cities across the country, G4G is in 11 cities. The Dallas group started several years ago when a G4G volunteer from Boston moved to Dallas and started the local chapter.
This month G4G will be painting and repairing the exterior of Legacy Founders Cottage in Oak Cliff.
“We’ve done everything from sorting clothing at Genesis Woman’s Shelter to cleaning cages at the SPCA,” G4G board member Erin Moore said.
While Project Ruffway will have result in a GLFD logo wrapped around a vehicle that will be seen widely as it travels around Dallas County, G4G spreads its message with one-on-one contacts.
Moore said the group often volunteers alongside church groups. While they’re working clearing a bamboo stand along the Elm Fork of the Trinity River or cleaning horse stalls at Equest Equine Assisted Therapy, the volunteers wear their Gay For Good t-shirts and tell other volunteers who they are.
“We’re more grass roots-y,” Moore said.
But over a year of volunteer projects, they come in contact with hundreds of people they never would have met elsewhere.
Taking care of the community
Custard and McCrocklin said they used to focus a lot of their charitable efforts on national-level LGBT organizations and events. Over the past few years, however, their focus has shifted more and more to the local community. That is, after all, what it’s all about.
“It’s important to invest in your community,” Custard said. “But it’s just as important to be invested in your community. It all relies on the idea that if we want to see something happen, we have to make it happen. Friends are family in this community, and you have to take care of your family. We have created this wonderful fabric of friends taking care of friends.”
McCrocklin added, “We really are each other’s families. And that is part of our lives and our experience. It’s how we’ve grown up over the last 40 years. And it really is a great gift.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 19, 2016.