April 17th, 2014
Gay & Bold: Philanthropy in the LGBTQ Community
I didn't get to where I am today by myself. I am the product of an extended family, raised by the proverbial “village.” I grew up sharing as a family norm. We didn’t have a lot growing up, but we had more than others and we shared what we had. We had a collective responsibility towards one another to make sure our community was okay.
One of my first memories around philanthropy happened every Sunday at church. My grandfather would give me a nickel to place in the collection plate. I would hold on to that nickel tightly through the whole service until it was time to give. Putting that nickel into the collection plate was my favorite part. It was my favorite part for two reasons – because my grandfather gave me that nickel and because it was a way that my whole family participated in the community. It wasn’t about my nickel or the $5 dollar bill someone else had given a few pews down; it was about feeling that every gift in that moment was valued. I learned that everyone had something to give and I was thrilled to participate in the process of giving even at that young age. I never called what we did at church “philanthropy,” I just knew it was something that we were supposed to do and that it was important.
Now I am the Deputy Executive Director for External Affairs at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and I fundraise for a living. Unlike others that fall into fundraising, I chose it as a career. I chose it because I’ve always been good at it, and I am good at it because I like motivating others toward a goal. Growing up in Los Angeles with very little resources, I remember leading a fundraising effort for a school trip to Sea World. My classmates and I had never stepped foot on a plane or even traveled outside LA, but we were determined to go. We hosted a bike-a-thon and I came out on top with the most donors! I was successful not just because I was good at asking for money, but because I motivated others to join me in a collective effort – my mom helped, my grandparents helped, even my aunts and uncles helped. I was motivating and coordinating a group towards a shared goal, and that’s what I’ve continued to do in my whole career and entire life.
Some people think I like fundraising because of the fancy dinners and events. Sure they’re fun but truly I love fundraising because I see money as a tool to get things done. For me, fundraising is a political act, because I fundamentally believe in the redistribution of wealth. Icome inequality and poverty are terrible things. It shouldn’t be all about the “haves,” we need for everyone to be lifted up if we want to be a great country. Fundraising is about injecting capital and directing resources to the people and organizations on the ground that do the hard organizing work for change.
I understand how fundraising works because I am a donor. I don’t ask others to do something I haven’t done myself. No one likes to be treated like an ATM machine; they like to be engaged. I am fortunate that I am in the financial position to be a Bold Giver but it also comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. I make more money than the rest of my family. I don’t know if I deserve to, but I have it and it’s my responsibility to do something with it. Could I spend my money on shoes and clothes? Absolutely, but I also want to make sure that the projects and organizations that I care about have the resources they need to continue doing their amazing work. After all, we don’t live in a place where things happen automatically or for free.
Not only do I love fundraising and giving, I love engaging and supporting others to do the same. Before coming to the Task Force, I was privileged to run the Gill Foundation’s training and capacity building program, which became a national model for LGBTQ nonprofit organizational development. I’ve also served on numerous boards including the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and as board chair for the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training (GIFT), a nonprofit training group focused on building the fundraising skills of people of color.
The boy that put the nickel in the collection box is still here. I can now go beyond nickels and dimes as I raise and give big, and my giving has graduated beyond the church to support a range of organizations working for systemic change. But at the core I’m still giving because of that same thrill I did as a kid when I’m part of something bigger than myself.