The Arcus Foundation and The Channel Giving Circle

October 11, 2017

“Arcus funds gays and apes” was how the Arcus Foundation was described the first time it was mentioned to me while I was living in New York. A better description would come from its then Executive Director Kevin Jennings, who I also met in New York - “the Arcus Foundation is dedicated to supporting LGBTI social justice and Great Ape Conservation, we push boundaries and make change.  We are dedicated to the idea that people can live in harmony with one another, and the natural world. We believe respect for diversity among people and in nature is essential to a positive future for our planet and its inhabitants”.  While Kevin could recite that exact line from the Arcus website with ease, I was struggling with the concept a little – gays and apes? I didn’t get it at first, but upon closer engagement I came to fall in love with the vision’s simplicity – that we can live in harmony with each other and nature.

The Arcus Foundation is the principle founding philanthropic funder of The Channel, and its support has enabled us to maintain the 100% grant pass-through rate that we currently provide to our members. While this pass-through rate may change in the future, we are extremely grateful for the initial support of Arcus, particularly as it was the first time they had funded a LGBTI project in Australia.

The Arcus foundation was founded by Jon Stryker, an American architect, philanthropist and activist for social and environmental causes. He is a billionaire stockholder and heir to the Stryker Corporation medical supply company. While he may not hold the title of the richest LGBTI person in the world, he probably is (alongside Kevin Gill) one of the two most philanthropic LGBTI people, globally. A quiet, intelligent and persistent man, Stryker has given over $500m to the Arcus Foundation since 2000, and made the US top 50 philanthropic donors list every year from 2006-2012, and again in 2014. The Arcus $17m+ USD annual donation to LGBTI projects makes it the top LGBTI-specific grant organisation in the US, and Stryker’s leadership has inspired many others to give.

So, why The Channel? – For a number of years, I and one other Founding Director of The Channel had been asking the question - was there a need for LGBTI giving in Australia to do more? US studies had showed dismal donor and donation rates amongst the LGBTI community – with occurrences much lower than those of equivalent non-LGBTI community members. The reasons given for poor donation amounts/rates were well researched and plentiful(albeit always in the US context). The demographic impact of HIV/AIDS meant that a large number of the community members who would now be “of age” regarding philanthropic giving were no longer with us, or unable to give. A lack of extended family on the part of LGBTI community members meant typical school and other community type donations were lower than other groups. Or perhaps aninternal fear of acceptance led us towards donations to the Arts, as a proxy for our community, as opposed to donating to the community directly. It wasn’t until Georgia, the Executive Director of The Channel, landed on the current funding model, that we thought - “this has potential”. And so The Channel was born.  With the Arcus link being both their commitment to growing LGBTI philanthropy and a specific project of Jon Stryker,  we launched onDecember 1, 2016.

My personal learning has been greatly enhanced by encountering the Arcus Foundation and its team. Through networks spanning the globe, we can now share ideas on LGBTI philanthropy, help educate and inform on pressing LGBTI issues, and challenge others to be as philanthropically minded as Arcus.  As members of The Channel, in a small way, we are all living and breathing the Arcus vision – to push boundaries, make change, and live in harmony with each other. If we achieve that in Australia, I for one, will be very happy.

About Neil Pharaoh,

Neil Pharaoh is one of the Founding Directors of The Channel, Australia first LGBTI giving circle. He was also the national co-chair of Rainbow Labor from 2008-2014, which was the body instrumental in over 200 LGBTI legislative and regulatory reforms within Australia.  Neil ran for State Parliament in Australia in 2014, and after a narrow election loss spent 2015 working in the US, including on international LGBTI advocacy, campaigns and political activities. He tweets at @neilpharaoh (www.twitter.com/neilpharaoh ) and can be followed on Facebook (www.facebook.com/neilpharaoh)  and Instagram (www.instagram.com/neilpharaoh ).