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Funders for LGBTQ Issues’ Latest Grantmaking Report Details the “Ground We’re Afraid to Lose”

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Funders for LGBTQ Issues today released its 2022 Resource Tracking Report, revealing a static or effectively shrinking level of funding for queer groups in the face of a continuing, multipronged attack on LGBTQ Americans’ rights. While the absolute giving number in 2022 increased by 3%, or $6.9 million, from 2021’s record high of $251 million, 2022’s 8% inflation rate meant that grantmaking effectively decreased that year. Additionally, the field’s top five institutional donors decreased their actual giving by a collective $20 million. 

This is a troubling development in an area of grantmaking that remains extremely top-heavy, with the top 10 funders of queer organizations providing 52% percent of the total given. And despite the fact that most of the LGBTQ equality fights in 2022 were taking place at the local or municipal levels, funding for groups outside the national level appears to have declined slightly since 2021. Total LGBTQ funding devoted to sexual minority communities of color also decreased. Forty-three percent of the total given went to such communities in 2021; that was down to 38% in 2022.

The latest report does include some decidedly bright spots. Giving to nonprofits serving and advocating for transgender individuals increased by 34% and the majority of 2022’s grants, 51%, were in the form of general operating support. Nor was funding for queer groups alone in failing to keep pace with inflation — that was the case for funding across sectors in 2022, according to Candid. 

The report’s funding distribution data is also complicated by the high percentage of grants that could not be categorized. Fully 36% of the 6,107 grants from 903 donors that were analyzed for the 2022 report didn’t specify a geographic focus; that’s up sharply from the 16% of grants lacking that designation in 2021, making it difficult to be confident in overall assertions about the national versus local giving picture. That said, there was a shift back to national-level giving among those where geography was specified, with national nonprofits receiving 29% of the grant funding. State and local nonprofits, meanwhile, received 12% and 16% respectively. 

Funders’ apparent move toward more national giving and the muddiness of the funding distribution data overall are in sharp contrast to 2021’s report. The 2021 tracking report showed a decided shift in funders’ geographic focus; that year, funding for national-level groups dropped to 27% — down from 42% of the money going to national queer organizations in 2020. In 2021, the funding distribution between national and local level nonprofits was roughly equal, with local-level funding at 25%. Given that over a third of the grants reported for 2022 didn’t include a geographic focus, however, it’s impossible to make definitive statements about the distribution of grantmaking between national and local LGBTQ groups. The reality may be better, or worse, than the available numbers indicate.

Funders for LGBTQ Issues is concerned about the lack of clarity in the grant distribution data and what the available numbers seem to say about a shift away from local giving, said Director of Research Sammy Luffy, a co-author of the recent report. While it remains important to support national LGBTQ-serving nonprofits, money given to local groups “goes farther than national-level funding to large national organizations,” she said.

“What we hope to see and what ground we’re afraid to lose”

The big question is, why did LGBTQ giving stagnate in 2022, particularly after rising by roughly $50 million from 2020–2021? 

Several factors are likely at play, starting with the fact that giving to this sector has been volatile in the past. The tracking report for 2018, for example, recorded a record-high total of $209.2 million, a number that dropped to $193 million in 2019. Giving for LGBTQ causes has tended to spike in the face of crises — such as the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in 2016 — while otherwise growing at a much slower pace. This may have helped LGBTQ causes in the days before America was plunged into a series of seemingly perpetual crises, starting with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. 

Now, however, an onslaught of attacks against LGBTQ communities in the U.S. could also be leading to a bit of donor fatigue. It may have been easier to move funders to give in the face of relatively discrete, more time-limited challenges and attacks. Funders for LGBTQ Issues’ 2004 tracking report, for example, revealed that the largest increase in grantmaking that year was to support LGBTQ civil marriage/civil unions, increasing from 3.8% of 2003’s grant dollars to 11% in 2004. That year’s drive in 13 states to amend their constitutions to ban legal recognition of same-sex couples’ right to marry was likely a factor behind the 75% growth in overall giving to queer groups. And in 2017, giving in response to the 2016 Pulse nightclub mass shooting increased LGBTQ philanthropic grantmaking so significantly that the tracking report for that year lists it separately from 2017’s overall total. It may also have been easier to motivate more mainstream donors when queer groups were able to argue that all they were asking for was the ability to participate fully in traditional institutions like marriage and military service.

There’s also the fact that, while anti-equality forces definitely have all LGBTQ rights in their sights, the most public of those attacks these days are against transgender children and adults. Just as median liberal views about marriage equality started evolving in a more positive direction in the mid-2000s thanks to the tireless efforts of LGBTQ nonprofits and activists (not to mention strategic giving from a set of dedicated philanthropic funders) — and thanks also to the over-the-top vitriol directed against them by right-wing groups — that same learning curve is definitely in play with transgender rights today.

Finally, pro-equality funders could also be thinking that their first priority needs to be preserving democracy itself — see, for example, the LGBTQ funding powerhouse Gill Foundation’s foray into democracy giving this election year. Most of the same forces working to roll back LGBTQ rights are also trying to undermine election security and restrict the ability to vote at a time when public acceptance of queer Americans is at an all-time high. If the pro-LGBTQ majority isn’t able to vote, or to have those votes counted, the far-right’s Project 2025 makes it quite clear that many if not all of the gains of the past 50 years on everything from workers’ rights and environmental protection to racial justice and abortion will be on the chopping block alongside LGBTQ equality under the law.

At the same time, 2022 is two years in the past; or, as Luffy put it, serves as “a snapshot in time.” It’s entirely possible that funders have significantly upped their LGBTQ giving game in the face of the right’s increasingly open hostility to sexual minorities. As Luffy said during our conversation, the findings from the most recent tracking report “can be illustrative for what we can expect to see in the future — what we hope to see — and what ground we’re afraid to lose.”

In addition to LGBTQ philanthropy, Dawn Wolfe’s beats include criminal justice, racial and justice issues, efforts to reform philanthropy, and funding for nonprofit tech. You can reach her at: [email protected].


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