After We Say Goodbye

Friday, January 29, 2010

By Jane D. Schwartz
Executive Director, Paul Rapoport Foundation

In August of 2009, Anita Nager, the former Executive Director of the Beldon Fund, began a discussion on this blog regarding “spend out” versus “in perpetuity.” At the time Anita was blogging, the Paul Rapoport Foundation had already made the decision to follow Beldon down the spend-out path and disburse our assets in five years, closing our doors completely in 2015. Yes, our decreasing assets played a major role in the board’s decision to adopt this course of action, but in fact, increasing or maintaining our assets was never the driving force in our grantmaking strategy. Rather, how we could best support our grantees always took—and continues to take—precedence. Our concern for our grantees’ current precarious economic situation was the ultimate prod that moved us to the decision to spend out.

We have taken to heart much of the wisdom offered in Beldon’s Giving While Living publication. For example, we are further narrowing our funding foci for our last grantmaking years, but we are especially mindful of one of the other major points made by Beldon: the need to find additional funding sources for our grantees after we spend out. That is my concern as I write today.

The Paul Rapoport Foundation’s mission is to support racial and economic equity in lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual (LGTB) communities of color. In our final years of grantmaking, the Foundation will focus on three low- or no-income populations: (1) LGTB youth of color, ages 24 and under; (2) LGTB seniors of color, ages 60 and older; and (3) members of transgender communities of color. Sadly, in the 22 years since we were founded, funding for LGTB communities of color remains woefully inadequate. A 2009 survey by Funders for LGBTQ Issues, Racial Equity Campaign Benchmarks, reveals that the percentage of funding dollars targeted to LGTB communities of color is barely 10 percent of all LGTB funding—and the latter, shockingly, is only $77 million nationwide.

In the past, the Paul Rapoport Foundation provided startup and general operating support to fledgling organizations providing direct services, advocacy, and community development in LGTB communities of color. However, in these perilous economic times, we have begun to seek ways we can better institutionalize some of the organizations we have had a hand in establishing. The reason for our current concern is that while these organizations remain the primary service providers to and advocates for their target populations, they have not been successful in attracting a truly broad funding base. And this, we fear, is due in large part to the specific populations they serve.

LGTB members of communities of color face racial, economic, and gender inequities on a regular basis. I think about the story one grantee told of an elderly client—a retired African-American lesbian living on a very limited income. She finally got up the nerve to go to the only senior center near her home to try to take advantage of its lunch program. Not another soul there, however—neither client nor staff—was a person of color. She felt so uncomfortable just trying to eat in this setting that she never even broached her more dire service need: the bereavement group she had heard they offered. She had just lost her partner of over 28 years to breast cancer—but how could she talk about this to a support group of heterosexual strangers with whom she wasn’t even comfortable eating lunch?

Or the young black man who has sex with men (MSM) who was working a minimum-wage job and couldn’t afford an apartment. He’d been living at a homeless youth shelter but his 60 days were nearly up, and in desperation he said to his case manager, “I see all the HIV-positive kids here getting into housing, so maybe I need to stop trying so hard to stay HIV-negative and get myself an HIV diagnosis, too. Then, maybe I can get an apartment.”

Or the gay Asian youth who tried to commit suicide because he’d been persecuted about his appearance for so long. The hospital released him the very next day, saying it couldn’t hold him for observation because he had no medical insurance. And then there was the transgender Latina who was harassed by police every day, and eventually was even arrested and charged with solicitation just because she was walking her dog in her own neighborhood.

These are just four examples—and there isn’t a grantee we fund who doesn’t have similar, distressing stories to tell.

For our last four years of grantmaking, the Paul Rapoport Foundation will focus on these three populations, and we urgently seek those Philanthropy New York members who fund youth, who fund aging, who fund communities of color, and who are willing to embrace diversity—and we ask you to take a new look at your funding parameters. We know money is tight today—that is why we’ve chosen to spend out at this time—but may we introduce you to some nonprofit jewels whom, perhaps in four years’ time, you will be able to include in your grantmaking strategy? May we ask how our foundation can help you build the support you need among your trustees and staff so that these underserved populations are no longer marginalized out of fear and ignorance? May we open this sort of dialogue with you, and with other inclusive Philanthropy New York grantmakers?

Jane D. Schwartz has been the Executive Director of the Paul Rapoport Foundation since its inception in 1987.

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