Year one of The Channel and what marriage equality means for philanthropy

Marriage equality marks a major step forward for Australia and our LGBTQIA+ communities. But as Georgia Mathews explains, it is still a mission moment for philanthropy.

On the 1st of December, The Channel turned one. I’m going to share with you what I’ve learnt this past year while running Australia’s first LGBTQIA+ giving circle. But first, some important reflections on an eventful past few months working in philanthropy during the Marriage Law Postal Survey.

MARRIAGE EQUALITY – IT’S FINALLY HERE, WOOT!

Well done to the team of campaigners at Australian Marriage Equality for pulling together a YES campaign to be reckoned with.

The LGBTQIA+ community’s history in Australia and globally is intrinsically linked to the fight for human rights, and that’s why this legislative change is so important. Allowing all Australians to marry is a recognition that every human being is deserving of the same rights.

The requirement for a public survey was disappointing and costly. One of the positives was that it galvanised so many Australian philanthropists who may not have previously supported LGBTQIA+ programs to get involved. It’s important that we acknowledge those philanthropic organisations and individuals who stepped up

Back pats, bear hugs and voguing all round.

I’m hopeful that now they’re involved they’ll stay passionate about supporting the LGBTQIA+ community.

PHILANTHROPY’S STEPPED UP – LET’S CELEBRATE

The Snow Foundation, Myer Family Foundation, Reichstein Foundation and Australian Communities Foundation are among the important philanthropic institutions that led the way. Various high-net-worth individuals, and even corporates, not only publicly declared their support but also reached into their pockets.

During his recent visit to Australia, Daniel Lee, CEO of Levi Strauss Foundation in the United States, called it a “mission moment for philanthropy” and urged funders to take up the challenge on this time-sensitive issue. Many did, and it was encouraging to watch. It left me with no doubt that philanthropy played a key role in achieving the result.

Now is a time for dousing our wounds in Passion Pop and letting the dust settle. Dr Jason Franklin, WK Kellogg Chair and US philanthropist, who spoke at The Channel’s recent grant announcement, stressed the importance of celebrating our wins when we get them. I agree, but there’s still work to do.

MARRIAGE EQUALITY’S TIME IN THE SPOTLIGHT EXPOSED A DIVIDE WITHIN THE PHILANTHROPIC SECTOR

It’s been a truly interesting six months in the sector. As well as the same-sex marriage (SSM) vote, there has been the threat to charities’ right to advocate compounded by the recent appointment of Gary Johns as head of the ACNC, indicating that things will remain rocky.

I’ve enjoyed hearing my colleagues’ views on philanthropy’s role in the marriage equality ‘debate’. Some were rallying the masses, while others were organising ‘Post your YES vote’ parties on top of funding the campaign – acting as influential allies and taking responsibility as funders.

Others would stop just short of rolling their eyes when the issue came up yet again. They’d say something to the effect of “I don’t have time to put things to my board that are just going to get shut down” or “It’s too political for us”.

Being seen as a ‘political’ on partisan issues is part of the reason why philanthropic dollars have failed to flow to LGBTQIA+ organisations and programs. While the marriage equality campaign gave philanthropy something to galvanise behind, it also served to highlight just how ‘political’ some donors see human rights and the health and wellbeing of Australia’s rainbow community to be.

 

(L-R) The Channel’s Luke Exell, Michelle Muchatuta, David Anthony, Georgia Mathews, Neil Pharaoh, and Caitriona Fay.

While my hope is the marriage equality campaign has created a new passion in philanthropy for supporting LGBTQIA+ issues, I am also concerned that funders may see the YES vote as the finish line.

THE CHANNEL’S WINDOW INTO THE LGBTQIA+ NOT-FOR-PROFIT SECTOR

In the US, 27 cents out of every 100 philanthropic dollars reaches LGBTQIA+ communities – that’s less than any other marginalised group. We don’t know what the figures are in Australia, but we do know that no big funders name LGBTQIA+ communities as a key focus of their grant making.

The Channel is celebrating a year of operations, having run two grant rounds with around 50 expressions of interest. I can confidently tell you that there’s no shortage of quality, evidence-based, community-lead projects kicking around and ready for philanthropic partnership. I can also tell you that 95% of the community projects that applied for funding from The Channel are running on almost no funding.

Relying on government funding, especially in an area so susceptible to political partisanship, it not realistic. While corporate entities are showing plenty of goodwill, we need to see more in the form of cash support for grassroots LGBTQIA+ organisations.

Finally, there are very few LGBTQIA+ organisations with Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status, and even fewer that are aware of auspice arrangements as an option. This is one of a number of indicators that organisations working in this area need investment to grow their capacity, infrastructure and fundraising literacy. Luckily The Channel’s sub fund is hosted by the Gay and Lesbian Foundation of Australia. This provides us with the ability to give to both DRG and non-DGR entities.

HOW THE CHANNEL PLANS TO SUPPORT LGBTQIA+ COMMUNITIES AS WE WORK TOWARDS TRUE EQUALITY

The Channel, and its members, of which there are now 95, want to see a thriving LGBTQIA+ not-for-profit sector that’s participating in social change for its own community and designing its own solutions.

We’re promoting this through funding brave and innovative projects addressing needs that the community identifies as being most pressing. We’re talking to other funders and our members about the importance of this work and focus area, and we’re starting to work with community organisations to build their capacity to fundraise from the philanthropic sector. The latter will be in vain if their proposals fall on deaf ears, as they have before.

The Channel and its members want to see a thriving LGBTQIA+ not-for-profit sector that’s participating in social change for its own community and designing its own solutions.

So, I urge you, don’t stop at marriage equality – partner with us to achieve true equality for LGBTQIA+ communities in Australia.

DON’T STOP AT MARRIAGE EQUALITY – IT WAS A HARD WIN AND THAT’S A SYMPTOM OF A FAR GREATER PROBLEM

All of the challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community that we hope marriage equality will go some way to solving still exist – poorer mental health, higher rates of suicide, higher rates of verbal and physical abuse and workplace discrimination to name a few. There is so much to gain by having a safe, healthy and fully participating rainbow community in Australia. This is still a mission moment for philanthropy.

Dr Franklin, in that same speech I mentioned earlier, explained that the backlash following marriage equality in the US saw homophobic attacks rain down on the community, and they were not just aimed at marriage equality (bathroom bills, for example).

We must be vigilant and prepared to support the LGBTQIA+ community against any level of backlash. With the area receiving more public attention than it ever (maybe) has in Australia, we need the philanthropic community to stand with us and seize the momentum!

The Channel has a goal to reach 100 Members by 31 December. Find out more at www.the-channel.org

Find Georgia Mathews on LinkedIn or come see her in action and have a chat at the Generosity Forum 2018 in Melbourne on 27 February.