Donor Focus: Gays and Lesbians
The gay and lesbian communities have long been major supporters of charitable organizations in the United States. But it’s only recently that those organizations were able to openly acknowledge their gay donors — thanks in part to many who have self-identified in response to the growing maturity of the gay movement — and show that they are uniquely attuned to gay-rights issues and supportive of same-sex relationships.
But for many nonprofit organizations, one perennial deterrent is potentially alienating social-conservative and religious donors who believe homosexuality is immoral.
Still, many mainstream charities have recognized the need to tap into this burgeoning donor group. The San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, for example, hosts the Gay and Lesbian Sierrans, a conservation club for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered individuals. Throughout the year, GLS sponsors outdoor activities for Bay-area members.
The Sierra Club also has fetched big gifts through its Walt Whitman Gay and Lesbian Fund, a program that supports both the environment and gay rights.
Taking a cue from progressive organizations such as the Sierra Club, some mainstream organizations have launched gay and lesbian giving clubs, appeared at gay-pride events and altered administrative policies to accommodate same-sex unions.
According to a 1998 study conducted by the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies — the most recent and frequently cited study of its kind — the average gay donor contributed 2.5 percent ($1,194) of his personal income to charity during the previous year. This finding is slightly more than the 2.2 percent ($1,017) of household income contributed by the average donor in the United States, as found in a late-1990s Independent Sector survey.
Patterns of volunteering also differ, with gay volunteers being much more active. The typical non-gay volunteer averages 18 hours per month, while gay volunteers average 29.