Queer Eye for the Straight Organization
“Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” “Ellen,” “The L-Word,” “TransAmerica,” “Brokeback Mountain” — clearly lesbians, gays, bisexuals and
transgenders are more visible in our country’s culture than ever before. More than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their nondiscrimination policies, and half provide health benefits to their domestically partnered employees. While LGBT people still don’t have full and equal rights (such as in marriage) or nondiscrimination protection (such as in employment) in the United States, all polls show a steady and increasing acceptance of LGBT people in American society.
Just as corporate America is realizing that fair and equal treatment of its LGBT employees is good for the bottom line, so too are nonprofit organizations realizing that catering to LGBT donors is good for theirs. But as was discussed in the July/August 2004 issue of FundRaising Success, if you want to raise money from the LGBT community, your organization needs to first walk the walk.
Before starting any type of marketing or fundraising activities focusing on the LGBT community, make sure your organization’s nondiscrimination policies include sexual orientation and gender identity; also make sure your personnel policies and practices include equal provisions for domestic partners and families by adoption. Many inquisitive LGBT donors will (and should) check on such things before opening their wallets. Also take a quick audit of openly LGBT staff and board members. Enlist their support early for your efforts. If there are no openly LGBT members of your board and staff, it might indicate a need to do some work on your organizational culture.
Depending on your mission, there might be some important areas of your program work that are LGBT-inclusive; begin to highlight them in your newsletters, board reports and other communications. By drawing the public’s attention to these areas of your work, you naturally will attract some LGBT donors in your community, and existing LGBT donors might begin to identify themselves. If you have program areas that should be more inclusive of the LGBT community, address that carefully before beginning to fundraise intentionally from LGBT people. Any group that historically has been stigmatized and left out of social institutions will be attentive and respond favorably to being genuinely and visibly included in an organization they’re interested in getting involved with — even as simple check writers.
When raising money in this community, it’s important to know that LGBT people — particularly in the major urban areas — love events. Fundraising professionals will tell you that events are the worst way to raise money (and usually they are), but at the risk of reinforcing stereotypes, many LGBT people crave community and love to get dressed up.
Look inside first
Depending on your development capacities and organizational culture, consider creating a special committee or enlist a couple of board members or volunteers who are connected to the LGBT community to draw on their connections and expertise. Like any fundraising efforts, the closer the people connection, the better.
Another critical check is to make sure your internal systems, donor database and acknowledgement letters are set up for same-sex couples. You can guarantee you won’t get a second gift from a gay couple who inadvertently gets a “Dear Mr. and Mrs.” thank-you letter. Similarly, use inclusive language consistently throughout all your communications — you can’t assume you know how your donors self-identify, even if you know the gender of their partners. Also, be aware that since the IRS doesn’t yet acknowledge same-sex partnerships, same-sex couples can’t file joint tax returns. Consequently, you can’t predict how they’ll want to be acknowledged for tax purposes. Some might prefer to have both names on the letter; some might wish to be acknowledged separately. Some might be closeted to their employers, neighbors or family. It’s best to directly find out how they wish to be acknowledged.
The different tax treatment for same-sex couples also is extremely important when it comes to planned giving. If your organization doesn’t have the capacity to learn about these distinctions in depth, I suggest you not delve into those solicitations until thoroughly briefed by a professional. Estate planning is very different for same-sex couples and their families. Almost all planned-giving resources for nonprofit professionals are based on a heterosexual model in which married couples can transfer vast amounts of wealth without any tax consequences. Since the federal government doesn’t yet acknowledge same-sex couples as married, the potential gift-tax consequences are significant and impact planned giving.
Lastly, don’t be afraid. Take some risks within your organization to court these donors. What will sell the LGBT community is the same mission that you sell every day. Just do it with additional knowledge and sensitivity — and only when your organization is ready to walk the walk.
Julie Dorf is the director of philanthropic services for Horizons Foundation,
a community foundation in San Francisco that serves the LGBT
community in the Bay Area. Contact: email@example.com.