STAFF READ OF THE WEEK – Our Executive Director, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, writes about building a new model of grassroots funding in the South
When we launched the Campaign for Southern Equality (CSE) in 2011, my living room became our “office”, no one was getting paid, and almost every foundation we approached turned us down, either because they didn’t fund LGBTQ work or because they thought our primary strategy at the time – winning marriage equality in the South by 2016 – was laughable.
Fast forward to 2017: Large national LGBTQ foundations have increased their funding to established LGBTQ nonprofits in the South in recent years. The past year has also shown an exciting uptick in LGBTQ foundation grants to grassroots Southern work. But the fact remains that for most grassroots groups, especially those without 501(c)(3) status in rural areas, there are remarkably limited funding options.
Starting in 2015, we began making micro-grants of up to $500 through our Southern Equality Fund. The goal is to build a pipeline that gets funding to grassroots organizers who are doing heroic frontline work so they can grow and sustain their efforts and leadership.
You do not have to be a 501(c)(3) to receive a grant through our fund, and we’ve made the application short and sweet, knowing that many grassroots groups have not applied for a grant before and do not have paid staff or consultants who can focus on grant-writing. We get back to folks within a month of applying. To date we have given 111 grants totaling more than $59,000 to groups across 12 Southern states.
In the coming year, our goal is to increase our grantmaking to 10 percent of our organizational budget. In doing so, we are creating a practice of organizational tithing, drawing on the faith-based practice of giving away 10 percent of your wealth to support good works and acts of mercy.
Simply put, we need to get more funding into the hands of grassroots LGBTQ organizers across the South, and we need to do so as quickly as possible.
For CSE, funding grassroots work is a core strategy as we build a new model of Southern organizing, just like direct services and litigation. We learn from and build with our grassroots partners. In the shared work and mutuality of these relationships, there is also great joy.