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Q&A with the LGBTQ+ Index

As the Pride Month spotlight shines on LGBTQ+ issues and causes this month, new research from the Equitable Giving Lab is also illuminating trends in philanthropic support for LGBTQ+-focused organizations.

The LGBTQ+ Index is the first large-scale effort to measure giving to organizations large and small that hold serving the queer community at the heart of their missions. The Index revealed that 0.13% of contributed dollars in the U.S. flow to LGBTQ+-focused organizations, although giving to this subset of organizations has grown more rapidly in recent years than giving to other organizations.

Campbell & Company Vice President Sarah Anderson has worked extensively with national and local LGBTQ+ organizations, including a multi-year research effort called the LGBT Giving Project that sought to understand how to motivate more giving to the movement. To bring together what she’s seen in the field and what the new LGBTQ+ Index shows, Sarah sat down with Tessa Skidmore, one of the project’s lead researchers, to discuss more about the research and how it can help organizations and donors.

Sarah: In our own work with LGBTQ+ nonprofits, we’ve found like you did that many of these organizations are under-resourced compared to other areas of the nonprofit sector. Why does it matter to quantify the size of these organizations and the relatively small percentage of philanthropic support that they receive?

Tessa: We think that it’s important to show that the total giving to these organizations is a small number, but that it’s also important to show how much these organizations are doing despite receiving such a small share of charitable giving. Yes, they are smaller in terms of all these financial measures, but they provide multiple services for their communities and have won major victories. It also tells a story about organizations punching above their weight in terms of what they’re accomplishing with a relatively low level of funding. And that’s not just a story of scarcity but of resiliency. Imagine what can be accomplished if these organizations had more resources.

Sarah: We’ve seen a bit of a whiplash effect in the community, with a major win in 2015 on marriage equality that had some leaders questioning where the movement would go next and what would happen to donor support. Then we saw the Pulse shooting, the rollback of protections that began after the 2016 election, and the beginnings of an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, especially targeted at the trans community. How has that back and forth of a major victory and renewed threats shaped giving to LGBTQ+ organizations?

Tessa: The LGBTQ+ Index looks at giving between 2015 and 2016, and there were many significant events for the community in that span, as you mentioned. I think that shows up in the research because we found that giving to LGBTQ+ organizations is very small percentage of charitable giving, but it grew at nearly double the rate of non-LGBTQ+ organizations during this time. That growth in giving was particularly strong in 2017 and 2018, when we saw things like the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military. While our research isn’t able to directly talk about cause and effect, when paired with other research that has spoken to these impacts, it’s helpful in understanding why we’ve seen those spikes in those years.

You can also see the impact of certain events when you look at specific causes within the LGBTQ+ landscape. For example, giving to transgender-specific organizations increased by almost 200%, and we know that this is a time when a lot of legislation was introduced or enacted impacting transgender individuals.

Our advisory council for the Index also pointed out that some of the increases in giving may be driven by headline-grabbing information about attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, but that the 2015-2019 timeframe was also an important time of cultural shift toward greater visibility of LGBTQ+ individuals. Studies have shown the increased representation on film and in TV, for example, and that kind of cultural shift can also impact giving positively.

Sarah: What surprised you in the research?

Tessa: This wasn’t surprising per se, but I found it interesting and encouraging how diverse and widespread LGBTQ+ organizations are. There are organizations in all 50 states, and every state has at least four organizations serving the LGBTQ+ community. These organizations really do reflect the needs and interests of the community throughout the country, for example the gay chorus movement, LGBTQ+ organizations for all types of religious groups, and sports organizations for every sport you can think of. I think that demonstrates all the unique ways and places that LGBTQ+ individuals have found and created community.

Sarah: I found the breakdown of philanthropic support by subsector especially interesting, with support for LGBTQ+ orgs focused on public-society benefit (or advocacy/civil rights), human services and health all outpacing support for these causes among non-LGBTQ+ orgs – especially in the advocacy area. What does this tell you about the priorities and needs of the LGTBQ+ community compared to the general population?

Tessa: What we took away from that was that, while LGBTQ+ organizations are incredibly diverse and reflect a wide range of interests of the community as I just mentioned, it is also the case that a lot of these organizations are focused on fighting for equality and providing basic needs to LGBTQ+ individuals. Advocacy, human services, and health, those three categories make up about 75% of all giving to LGBTQ+ organizations. So while we’ve seen a lot of evolution, a lot of these organizations are focused on some of the same things that have been at the forefront for decades—equal rights and meeting the community’s immediate needs.

Sarah: How do you hope that organizations working in the LGBTQ+ community will use this information?

Tessa: We hope that it empowers organizations to make sound decisions and make a strong case for greater support. We’re hoping that it provides some helpful baseline information so they can see how they compare to others in this space.

Sarah: What about donors and funders?

Tessa: For donors and funders, going beyond the research report, we hope they will use the searchable database to inform their funding strategies and discover organizations that align with their giving priorities. For example, an individual or a funder may not have the LGBTQ+ community as a specific “bucket” of their giving, but maybe they care about homelessness or elders, so this is an opportunity for them to see that they can advance equity, support an area they already care about, and build in giving to LGBTQ+ organizations. They can search by geography or by cause to bring that lens into their existing giving strategies.

The LGBTQ+ Index was created by the Equitable Giving Lab at the Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. It will be updated annually. The Lilly School is also home to the Giving USA Foundation that researches and reports on annual giving trends in the United States.

Fundraisers, funders, and donors interested in learning more about the LGBTQ+ Index are invited to read more about the research, organizational case studies, and a directory of LGBTQ+ organizations at the Equitable Giving Lab.

Campbell & Company has worked with national and local LGBTQIA+ organizations and helped over 500 human services clients advance their fundraising strategies and place visionary leaders to help move their missions forward. Visit or call 877.957.0000 to launch the Campbell & Company team within your organization today.

About the Author

Sarah Anderson has worked extensively with national and local LGBTQ+ organizations. She brings to each engagement her expertise in strategic communications, a keen analytical eye, and skillful facilitation of challenging conversations. Based in Seattle, Sarah helps lead Campbell & Company’s Northwest team; she also led the firm’s strategic planning process and works closely with the leadership team to drive implementation of the plan.



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